Reflections from a research nursing placement | Blog

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Reflections from a research nursing placement

Reflections from a research nursing placement

Photo of Harriet in uniform in the Windsor Research Unit garden

Harriet Firth joined the Trust in January 2022 after moving to Cambridge from Somerset, to work as a Nursing Associate Apprentice based at Ida Darwin Hospital in Fulbourn. In this blog, Harriet shares her experience of the first research nursing placement at CPFT's Windsor Research Unit

I used to think that you would need multiple PhDs or a scientific background to do research, and it wasn’t accessible to everyone. It simply never occurred to me that research was done within the NHS and I hadn’t realised that nurses and health professionals would be the ones doing it!

I have always been interested in exploring a career in research. When the pandemic struck, I was completing a history degree and I had always intended to go into academia and spend my life publishing books on World War Two espionage or The East India Company. Caring for my Grandmother, who is living with dementia, whilst I was working at a dementia care home full time during the pandemic made me reconsider. I realised that I wanted to spend my life helping others and become a nurse.

I joined CPFT as a Nursing Associate Apprentice in January this year, having never set foot in Cambridgeshire before and knowing little about the Trust, the NHS or how it worked. When I was told my first placement would be at an NHS Trust research unit I was intrigued and slightly perplexed! I thought that when I changed career paths, I would never be able to get involved in research again or would only be able to participate by volunteering for a study or clinical trial. I had no idea what a research unit would do or how it would operate. Over my four months on placement I have discovered that there is so much more to research than I had ever imagined, and my perceptions about research have changed. 

In the course of my placement I have been involved in a whole range of activities. From cleaning and maintaining specialist equipment on the unit such as the Centrifuge to shadowing nurses involved the day to day activities of research including joining in on meetings with trusts from all over the country involved in a particular study and meeting patients both at the unit and in their own homes. The participants I have met have all been very friendly and willing to help me develop my skills. I have learned that as a research nurse you have to be very organised and be able to think on your feet. Research nurses are on the ground carrying out the research and things don’t always go to plan.

One of the highlights of my experience at the Windsor Research Unit was a two and a half hour session with the deputy manager of the Pathfinder study, which is investigating if problem adaptation therapy improves quality of life for those living with dementia and their carers. This is a study that is very close to my heart due to my time spent as a dementia carer. I used to always think that medical research was simply about curing and preventing illnesses rather than improving the lives of patients who already have long term health problems. I am very proud that the Trust I work for is involved in work that will improve quality of life for people who use their services. 

To students who are fortunate enough to get a placement with the Windsor Research Unit team, I would recommend you say ‘yes’ to everything, and go beyond ticking off a list of competencies - to experience as much as possible! This is a really interesting opportunity to find out how staff at a research active NHS Trust deliver studies, and another side of nursing.

I have had a great time working at Windsor and I am sad that I will be leaving them soon. The staff come from a wide range of backgrounds within healthcare and it has been great to learn from a group with such a diverse skill set. Their passion and enthusiasm for their work and their desire to support their participants and colleagues is truly inspiring.

I want to thank my mentors at the Windsor Research Unit and CPFT for all their help and support and tell them to expect my application to join them as a research nurse in 10 years’ time!  

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