Specialist Community Health Practitioner Ruth Haas Eckersley is Northern Care Alliance’s first Health Visitor to work as a Principal Investigator in research.
She’s had an interest in research right from the start of her nurse training at The University of Manchester, where there were plenty of opportunities to hear about innovation and discovery in lunchtime lectures and other events outside of her course.
Her working life, first as a District Nurse and then as a Health Visitor in Rochdale, has been built on evidence-based practice too – and completing her Masters deepened her interest in research that will improve outcomes for children and families.
But it was still a leap of faith to embark on an intensive two years of extra study, training and mentoring to gain the skills and knowledge that’s brought her to that role as first Health Visitor PI. She is supported by the community health research team on Surviving Crying, an NIHR-funded study which is evaluating a package of support to improve the mental health and coping of parents whose babies cry excessively.
So what were the steps to get her to this point?
She began with the NIHR Early Career Researcher Development Pathway, a 12-month programme with two study days and a coaching session each month. It includes input from local CRN teams, leadership coaches, organisational development experts, facilitators and a range of visiting.
After completing the pathway and its two academic assignments, Ruth successfully applied for a Health Education England/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Internship, which gave her the environment and support with protected time (one day a week) to progress her research leadership and skills.
The internship paired her with mentor Louise Wolstenholme, an Institute of Health Visiting Research Champion and one of the NIHR’s 70@70 Senior Nurse Research Leaders. Together with NCA’s Professor Heather Iles-Smith, who leads our Centre for Clinical and Care Research, Louise helped Ruth to connect with other clinical academics and to seek opportunities to use skills from her nursing role to develop research experience.
Ruth said: “Both awards took me out of my comfort zone. I was asked to do a lot of firsts: my first poster and poster presentation, a 3-minute elevator pitch, recorded a video diary, wrote a blog, presented virtually.
“Completing the internship has not just been easy and there have been obstacles along the way such as protecting time for research with a busy health visiting caseload and a team at capacity. But it has definitely been worthwhile and I’m now starting my future path into research from a place of confidence – although I will continue to seek out mentorship and support from the expanded network I’ve built.
“And I feel prepared to play a part in encouraging colleagues to consider a pathway to research and increase research capacity in the community, starting with a journal club within the HMR Community Children’s directorate.”