Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) make up a third of the UK’s health and social care workforce and have huge potential for using research-based practice to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients.
That’s why NHS Trusts like Northern Care Alliance and the National Institute for Health Research are putting support in place to encourage more AHPs to take those sometimes daunting first steps in research.
Here Katie Eves, a community stroke and neuro physiotherapist for NCA in Bury, explains how the NIHR’s Internship Programme has given her a greater insight into the rehabilitation needs of stroke survivors.
In April 2022 I began my journey on the HEE/NIHR Internship. This followed recent completion of the NIHR Early Careers Researcher Development Programme which gave me the ‘research bug’.
The internship is a short duration award for those with little to no research experience, allowing you to dip your toe into the world of research. It funds 30 days out of clinical practice for research activity and six additional days for attendance to workshops and seminars (three two-day residentials in the North West region) where topics to enhance research capacity and capabilities are discussed. The award covers salary costs.
Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability in the UK and people are now living for longer with the effects of a stroke. We now recognise that rehabilitation (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychology, nursing) is crucial in supporting the recovery of stroke survivors to help them live a good quality of life after stroke. In the past decade, the number of young adult (18-65 years) stroke survivors has increased across the UK. The rehabilitation needs of young adult stroke survivors is under-researched but understanding this could help us to tailor our rehabilitation programmes to better support our patients.
Patients are at the heart of everything we do in clinical practice and in research so Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) is a fundamental component when carrying out any piece of research. I applied to the internship because I wanted to listen to the rehabilitation needs and journeys of young adult stroke survivors to identify areas for future research. I used the time to run several focus groups with stroke survivors, their relatives, charity support workers and clinicians from NCA community stroke teams to see what could be done differently. This piece of work has identified areas for future research and service quality improvement project ideas.
During the internship I have had lots of other opportunities to network, attend courses, coaching and mentoring sessions, and had support from the Trust library service in how to start a scoping review. I even got my team involved in some research that my supervisor (Dr Hannah Jarvis) is completing – we spent an afternoon in the gait labs at MMU as the control participants for her study, it was a privilege to be a part of this research and the team enjoyed it. The internship has opened a wealth of opportunities and has supported personal growth too. The support from the NIHR and NCA team has been fantastic.
My top tips to others who may be interested in research or the NIHR internship programme
- Discuss the NIHR internship programme, your research interests/suitable projects relevant to your service with your line manager and gain approval
- Attend one of the NIHR internship programme webinars to find out more and ask questions
- Spend time finding a supervisor who shares a similar research interest (if you are struggling to know where to start then contact NCA’s Research and Innovation team for support)
- Have a look to see if there are any relevant training courses/master classes (such as implementation science, patient and public involvement, writing for publication) that you would like to go on during your internship and write about this in your application
- Go for it! It is a great opportunity to find out whether you enjoy research and you will develop transferrable skills along the way