Nicola Fisher with student Malikah Akhtarnurse

Supporting nurses of the future on their path into research

Musculoskeletal Research Delivery Lead Nicola Fisher blogs about her twin passions – research and supporting the nurses of the future


“Healthcare is constantly changing and evolving with new treatments and care pathways. But I wonder how many people take the time to stop and think about why this is?

The short answer is research, which has always been a passion of mine, as is supporting pre-registration nursing learners in practice.  To be able to amalgamate both into my practice is exciting and rewarding.  As a qualified nurse, I believe we have a responsibility to support learners to become competent and safe practitioners in the future.

Learning opportunities

Until recently, learners only came to research to ‘spoke out’ for a day or even just a few hours. This was very limiting. Now learners can attend our area for Hub placements, they are presented with an exciting learning opportunity in an area they might not even be aware of.

My interest in research was sparked as a student nurse in the ICU of the local hospital where I trained.  I was fascinated by how a simple change in position could improve a patient’s condition, I wanted to know why this was and how did the clinicians know this simple procedure could create a positive impact?  I hadn’t a clue as to how the evidence was formulated in the first place and how this was then translated into new and novel therapies.

Misunderstood role creates barriers

The role of a research nurse is still often misunderstood; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked how many research papers I read each day.  The general consensus is that we sit reading and eating cake, and as such our role is devalued and seen as insignificant.  This perception creates barriers, we can be seen as a hindrance to the busy ward staff who are facilitating care at the bedside. I find it quite sad that patients and the wider public have a greater understanding of the importance of research than some of our workforce.

Just last week I had a learner tell me wouldn’t be a good placement for her, she felt she would struggle to achieve her specific learning outcomes.  I asked her why she thought this, but she admitted she had no understanding of what we do. After I’d explained, she was surprised – she hadn’t realised she would be exposed to situations where she can adapt and learn new skills such as assessing capacity and taking informed consent while still being able to achieve the outcomes that are set by university. This perfectly highlights the misconceptions about research.

A wider skill set

Learning is not just about providing basic care on the wards, medication rounds, wound dressing and risk assessments. Although these are all important aspects of the role of a nurse, there is so much more that we do.

Research can assist in identifying the gaps in knowledge of the care that we provide.  We may not carry out medication rounds, but we do administer medications, we risk assess, we assess mental capacity and take fully informed consent, in fact we are experts in the differing types of consent required and are well versed in information governance, ethical practice and safety reporting. Believe it or not, we are autonomous practitioners who facilitate our own caseload of patients who come to our research facility for bloods, IV’s, XRAY, MRI and so on for the purpose of research.

System-wide importance

During the recent Coronavirus pandemic, research was thrown into the spotlight with pioneering vaccines and treatments. But now the perception seems to be that research isn’t as important anymore. It’s time to change that – and educating our future workforce about the importance of research seems a pretty good place to start.

Research plays a vital and valid role in the care we provide in every single discipline throughout the healthcare system. Not only does it create new treatments and improve current practice, it also assists the career progression of clinicians who strive to identify the best care possible for their patients. Many nurses have also advanced their careers by becoming successful nurse researchers, undertaking their own research to improve patient care.

Educating our future nurses now and providing them with valuable experience and knowledge, will ultimately benefit not only our patients but also our future workforce.”

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