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Karen Heslop Marshall Case Study



We recently caught up with former HEE/NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow and Nursing Times’ Nurse of the Year 2016 nominee, Karen Heslop-Marshall, to talk about her NIHR research and the benefits of conducting research as a healthcare professional.

“I certainly recommend the NIHR, I wouldn’t do a PhD any other way!”

Case Study

Having been a nurse at the Chest Clinic RVI at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for 25 years, Karen has a wealth of frontline experience caring for patients. It was in this role as a respiratory nurse that Karen saw an unmet need in her patients. 

Karen noticed that many patients to the chest clinic were also suffering with anxiety or depression, which was impacting on their breathlessness. As the respiratory nurses weren’t trained to deal with mental health symptoms, Karen decided to complete her post graduate diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) training in order to equip herself to help manage such patients’ needs. Seeing the success of her CBT assistance and with the help of NIHR/HEE Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship funding, she went on to conduct a large randomised controlled trial and develop her own intervention to help both nurses and patients in her unit.

“I got NIHR funding to do a large randomised controlled trial to show that respiratory nurses, who are not trained as psychologists or in mental health, can have brief training and help lots of patients with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“Respiratory nurses are best placed to do this because there are 3 million people in the country with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It’s a massive problem and for my study, I screened 1500 patients and 59% were anxious, but generally across the country people don’t screen, don’t address these issues and it does affect mortality and quality of life. So that’s what we’re dealing with with COPD, we can’t cure this illness so we’re trying to improve quality of life.”

An independent cost effectiveness analysis, found that the face to face intervention implemented by Karen, was more cost effective than the standard method of providing patients with information leaflets to help self-manage their symptoms.

After working in nursing for over two decades, Karen hadn’t ever considered a career in research until she was introduced to the NIHR by a colleague.

 “I had never heard of the NIHR, but the Trust Lead for Nursing Research at RVI said I would be perfect for a research fellowship. I looked into it, applied and was successful. It’s great - going from an MSc, finding an issue that wasn’t addressed, I’ve now gone on to develop an intervention and had it tested in the biggest study in the world in this area and it’s shown to be effective.

“It’s really nice to think that in an everyday clinical way a practical nurse can go on and still work in clinical practice, but think of ways to help improve patient care, that’s why I like research. 

“Nurses who have the background knowledge on a physical health problem can have additional skills to be able to identify emotional distress, and support patients to help them help themselves. It’s so much more cost effective than going through psychologists and psychiatrists, who may not have these physical health skills.”

Karen’s advice for other nurses, midwives and Allied Health Professionals considering research: “Planning is the critical thing - spend the time to design your research properly.”

What’s next?

Having made a name for herself through her NIHR research, Karen has been approached to utilise her research in a different setting as a co applicant on a health technology assessment, which has recently received £1.6 million in funding.

Karen is also now working with a company to develop an app for patients to access an online version of her intervention, and is trying to teach other Nurses around the country how best to utilise her strategy.

For more information on NIHR research funding available to healthcare professionals, visit our website.