During 2020, we are celebrating the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife with regular posts on the contributions of our research nurses and midwives.

It is 200 years since the birth of pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale. 160 years ago she established modern nursing by founding the Nightingale Training School at the old St Thomas’ Hospital site.

Today we think of Florence as the first research nurse, as she innovatively used data and evidence to transform patient care. Research nursing now spans across all clinical specialities and ranges from supporting the delivery of clinical research to nurse led research.

We are kicking off with Clair Harris, Head of Research Workforce, to find out more about her role.

What drew you to a career in research nursing?

Following my initial nursing training, for more than 15 years I worked across different nursing roles in Critical Care, including as a staff nurse and ICU sister. I was always interested in innovations and developments in care. Over the years, I became increasingly fascinated by how research influenced changes in practice.

I took the opportunity to lead on implementing a research project on the Intensive Care Unit where I worked at the time. This gave me the opportunity to develop project management skills and learn more about the clinical research process. I went on to introduce a research delivery service across the Unit. This led me to leading a busy research team working across anaesthetics, critical care, emergency and trauma at a Major Trauma Centre, as clinical research matron.

I am passionate about clinical research. In my role as of Head of Research Workforce at Guy’s and St Thomas’ I have the fantastic opportunity to champion the difference research nurses can make to patient care and clinical services, and to help develop career pathways for research staff.

What have you found to be the most rewarding part of research nursing?

The most rewarding aspects of research nursing for me have been developing longer lasting relationships with the patients, and working more collaboratively with leading researchers to strive to question practice and keep improving care.

Nurse led research is key to improving outcomes for patients along with improvements in clinical practice. Supporting nurse led research and nurse researchers has been key across my career to date, along with championing the recognition of nurse led research. Together with colleagues I have founded the UK-Allied Health Professional and Nurse network for Critical Care Researchers. The network brings together nurses/AHPs working in critical care research, either as research nurses/AHPs, coordinators or independent researchers to provide peer support, promote career pathways and share best practice.

What do you think the future holds for research nursing?

With the growth of nurse led research and recognition of the importance of research nursing in research delivery, I am confident that research nursing is well on the way to being recognised as key to clinical research.

Research nurses are key to not only delivering research studies and supporting our patients who volunteer to take part in studies, but also to influencing key research policy. With fantastic initiatives such as the NIHR’s 70@70, opportunities for nurse and midwife research leaders to be actively involved in advising and influencing policy makers in the NHS and NIHR, are growing. This will not only ensure that key findings and evidence are accelerated into practice but will also help more patients gain access to research focused on their needs.

A message for anyone considering a career in research nursing?

Research Nursing is a challenging but very rewarding role, which presents great opportunities to network with colleagues around the country and gain an in-depth appreciation and understanding of the evidence base. It also allows for the development of meaningful relationships with patients who chose to include research in their care pathway. The development of a whole new skill set, transferrable to many other roles in Nursing and healthcare is another reward.

At Guy’s and St Thomas’ we follow in the footstep of inspirational nurse and midwife researchers. Our research nurses and midwives are pushing boundaries in forging influential roles in R&D, and across research networks. We are working to develop support and career structures for research nurses and midwives to progress within the organisation, and for those interested in developing their own research.