Lead Research Nurses at UHB tell their story

17 May 2018

Being a Lead Nurse in Research is not for the faint hearted and at UHB this job is done by two, more-than-capable women. Diana Hull and Sarah Dhariwal admit the job can be as challenging as it is exhilarating, though they wouldn’t change a thing.

The Lead Nurses’ job ensures the safety of both patients and staff and guarantees the integrity of data collected from patients taking part in a trial. Overseeing the teams that deliver research at UHB, between them Sarah and Diana manage a team of over 120 research staff which includes research nurses, data managers, administrators and research assistants

The vast number of research trials that take place at UHB and the ever expanding networks in and around research, development and innovation mean, that not one but two Lead Nurses were required when Diana and Sarah were seconded to their roles last year.

Their job involves leadership, innovation, clinical knowledge, nursing skills, an ability to continuously motivate and educate, brilliant communication skills, an eye for detail, the need to be flexible and also requires years of hands–on experience.

It’s not really possible to sum up what is a typical ‘day in the life’ of a Research Lead Nurse or even summarise what the role entails. This is a job that varies daily, involves working with a great variety of other posts and requires constantly evolving and expanding skills.

In essence, Sarah and Diana lead all of the research delivery teams at UHB (outside of the Wellcome Trust/NIHR Clinical Research Facility [CRF] ) whether that research is interventional (drug trials), observational (new procedures) or technical (new medical devices).

Diana explained one way in which managing so many people is possible. “We have monthly meetings with the senior research nurses, who in turn manage their own delivery teams and we also oversee the teams who don’t have a senior research nurse of their own.”

The delivery teams consist of a number of different roles, including: data managers; project assistants; study co-ordinators; research assistants; clinical trials facilitators; radiographers; practitioners; technicians; apprentices; research nurses; pharmacists and clinical research scientists. The teams are also supported by the pathology laboratory, imaging and other laboratory departments.

Explaining the path that led to her current role, Sarah said: “I always knew I wanted to do something in medicine. Previously I worked with neurology patients in an area that I loved and then made a move into research, when we were doing some of the first research into Alzheimer’s and dementia. In 1996 I moved into research full time and became involved with patients in a very different way, before becoming a Lead Nurse last year.”

Outlining some of her history, Diana added: “Once qualified I worked in haematology nursing and then became a research nurse eight years later, which gave me the experience of looking after patients with various types of cancer, fatty liver disease and an auto immune disease, where the body attacks itself. The move to this role last year meant less hands-on patient care, but more managerial responsibility.”

“Being involved with potential new treatments makes this an exciting place to work and there is a certain amount of autonomy in the role. We can develop great working relationships with colleagues at all levels,” said Sarah.

The working day for a Lead Nurse can start with early meetings, a review of activity and checks that research teams are fully staffed for the day. Diana said: “A creative way of supporting staff and solving issues is important. There are always lots of calls, emails that need attention and a number of meetings to attend to provide advice and opinion on how to deliver trials safely. Urgent situations, such as sickness or absence in a delivery team, can throw a whole day out, when we need to make sure that caseloads are covered and patient treatment is not affected.”

Risk assessments and incident reports are also a regular aspect of work. If a patient on a trial is admitted and a report submitted, that has to be reviewed to ensure that processes and notifications are followed and what needs to be done, is done. Over 10,000 new patients are recruited to take part in research at UHB each year.

At UHB research is an important part of patient care and some of the research work which goes on is cutting edge, novel and often world leading. The Trust covers many different and specialist areas and because of this can have patients coming from many miles away, a point which makes the Lead Nurses very proud of their teams.

Both nurses are always up for a challenge. In recent years they have witnessed huge changes in the roles of and training offered to nurses. The recent merger also offers new opportunities and there is awareness that jobs and research services may expand across sites, as more patients get additional opportunities to take part in research.

Sarah and Diana work closely with other senior managers within research and development and the Trust as part of a strong management team, which makes the department a very cohesive entity.

As ambassadors for UHB and for research in particular, both nurses are keen to raise the profile of their posts and the organisation as a whole, getting involved in national organisations, conferences and training events. Diana recently attended the RCN Conference, where she submitted a poster on Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in partnership with the CRF. The rise of engagement with PPI groups is a big plus, ensuring that patients and members of the public are given an opportunity to be involved in the research process for the benefit of patient care.  Sarah is attending a national NHS R&D Forum in May where she will be presenting with the Deputy Director of RD&I, Business Manager and Clinical Research Facility (CRF) Manager on the successful workforce tool deployed across UHB R&D teams to a national audience.

Jo Plumb, Deputy Director of Research and Innovation, is delighted that both Sarah and Diana have embraced the Lead RN role and implemented changes to the RN structure across research teams.

Embedding education and development into their teams is very important and Diana and Sarah organise a twice yearly, half-day team development session for senior staff, as well a monthly ‘Information Exchange’ session for anyone in research and development who wants to share their news and seize an opportunity to network with other colleagues.

For Sarah and Diana working alongside the research teams and helping them work collaboratively to improve treatments, outcomes and the safety of patients, is what it is all about.