Linda’s Blog is reproduced with kind permission from the British Journal of Nursing, May 2022, Vol 31, No 8
Linda Tinkler is a Florence Nightingale Leadership Scholar (2018) and an NIHR Senior Nurse Research Leader.
There has never been a more exciting or well-supported point in time to develop and lead research within a clinical role in the nursing, midwifery and allied health professions (NMAHPs).
In the past year, we have seen key strategic research-focused appointments into the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) team, and the launch of dedicated strategies to support research within clinical practice, from our CNO and Chief Allied Health Professional Officer (NHS England/NHS Improvement, 2021; Health Education England, 2022).
NMAHPs benefit from continued Health Education England funding and National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) pathways and influential networks such as the Council of Deans Clinical Academic Roles Implementation Network (CARIN) to drive forward this agenda through advocacy and influencing (Baltruks and Callaghan, 2018).
The evolution of the landscape is encouraging; however, the pace of change is slow and the reality of developing, leading, and sustaining research for the benefit of others, while working in a busy clinical role as an NMAHP remains challenging (Trusson et al, 2019; Cowley et al, 2020; Olive et al, 2022).
The research journey can be likened metaphorically to hiking along a hilly, unmarked muddy trail, in the dark, often during a storm.
The route may be blocked by fallen trees, stinging nettles, thorny bushes, and the odd deep puddle. The thin and rocky ledges are difficult to navigate, leading to repeated attempts and rerouting, and the weather is foggy and chilly, leading to icy patches and stormy skies.
Over the years, the path has been so challenging that some explorers have decided to turn back, change path, or give up because there was no feasible way forward. This is a tragedy, because their research would have been life changing for those it was aimed at benefitting.
Despite the challenges of embarking on such an expedition; moving slowly yet steadily along the mountain trail is incredibly satisfying. The glimpse of clearer skies beyond the summit, being surrounded by increasing numbers of others on the same path with shared experiences, and knowing a difference is being made because of the trail one is
trekking, is what keeps many of our brave explorers gripping tightly on to their own personal mountain paths, while attaching others to their guide ropes behind them to provide support and safety.
In recent years, a number of maps, atlases and route finders to assist NMAHPs in their research journeys have emerged (Carrick-Sen et al, 2016; NHS England/NHS Improvement, 2021; Society of Radiographers, 2021).
Much of what we benefit from now has been informed by the many courageous explorers who have gone before us, striving to make a difference and increase the visibility of these careers
(Westwood et al, 2018; Iles-Smith and Ersser, 2019; Harris et al, 2020).
We are fortunate to learn from their experiences and we see and feel the increased impact of their advocacy and influencing regarding the importance and value of research within practice. Contextual, financial and political challenges, however, continue to provide obstacles along the rough terrain (Trusson et al, 2021; Newington, 2021; Avery et al, 2022).
What is needed is a Sherpa. A guide, who can walk behind, alongside or ahead of the brave explorer, when needed, supporting the individual along their path, providing a map, a compass and a tent for them to navigate their route and to rest and recoup when required.
The Sherpa is there to listen to feedback, understand the challenges, answer questions and work to put in place the bespoke support required, to make the journey less hazardous for the next explorer to come along.
The Sherpa should signpost, invest in, hold, encourage and advocate on behalf of the explorer, and seek out different routes and carry some of the much-needed equipment along the way.
I am a nurse, with more than 20 years’ experience within the NHS. I have supported and delivered the research of many others over the years, seeing, and experiencing, the challenges presented by the landscape. I have developed my own research, including many failed funding applications, to ultimately receive a fellowship to complete the PhD I am currently writing up, thanks to the support of the Royal College of Nursing and Sheffield University.
My role serves NMAHPs and clinical psychologists across the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
The benefit of being in a role serving multiple professions is not to be underestimated, due to the cumulative soft intelligence of where and how expertise and interest can be maximised and utilised to share across the landscape and between professions.
I have been in this role since 2018 when the Trust and Executive Chief Nurse recognised the need for a metaphorical Sherpa and showed their commitment to this complex but important agenda. Since then, we have together observed and influenced much change in the broader clinical academic landscape that we, as a Trust, are part of.
My role involves leading the facilitation and development of research capacity and capability building; providing maps (frameworks and policies), compasses (training, signposting to others and mentorship) tents (support groups and development opportunities) – even the odd flask of hot tea – to the range of explorers I am in post to support.
This is a varied role, which means I spend my time providing anything from one-to-one support, mentorship and signposting to individual clinicians, right through to developing and leading on longer term system-wide policies and infrastructure to support our NMAHPs with developing and leading their own research to impact on patient care.
During the last three and a half years, I have learnt from NMAHPs at every stage of their research journey and been fortunate to work with a committed Executive Chief Nurse team to steadily shape the landscape here at Newcastle upon Tyne hospitals. Links into national networks such as CARIN, the newly established CNO Research Transformation Leaders Network, and the NIHR’s 70@70 Senior Nurse and Midwife Research Leader programme, have influenced, supported, and strengthened the work here at the Trust.
Involvement across the UK landscape has enabled shared learning, support and collaboration across geographical and contextual boundaries and supported the many professions I work with, ensuring equity of access to the right support regardless of role, profession or position.
No two days in my working week are the same. Every conversation, piece of work, writing or thought process, regardless of how challenging, is a privilege. I am fortunate to be a Sherpa and feel lucky to be one who is able to bring individuals and professions, the NHS and academia together, to increase learning and connection for the benefit of our people: patients, service users, families and staff.
Developing and leading research within practice is exciting, rewarding, stretching and often uncomfortable. Every trust should invest in Sherpas to enable the journey and carry the backpacks for our nurses, midwives and AHPs.
Avery M, Westwood G, Richardson A. Enablers and barriers to progressing a clinical academic career in nursing, midwifery and allied health professions: A cross-sectional survey. J Clin Nurs. 2022;31(3-4):406-https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.15673
Baltruks D, Callaghan P; Council of Deans of Health. Nursing, midwifery and allied health clinical academic research careers in the UK. 2018. https://tinyurl.com/3acx56vh (accessed 11 April 2022)
Carrick-Sen D, Richardson A, Moore A, Dolan S. Transforming healthcare through clinical academic roles in nursing, midwifery and allied health professions. A practical resource for healthcare provider organisations. 2016. https://tinyurl.com/2kn52ecx (accessed 11 April 2022)
Cowley A, Diver C, Edgley A, Cooper J. Capitalising on the transformational opportunities of early clinical academic career training for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals. BMC Med Educ. 2020;20(1):418. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-020-02348-2
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Health Education England. Allied health professions’ research and innovation strategy for England. 2022 https://tinyurl.com/msw9e9st (accessed 11 April 2022)
Iles-Smith H, Ersser S. The DINARC© toolkit—clinical academic research capacity-building and post-doctoral development for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (NMAHP). International Journal of Practice-based Learning in Health and Social Care. 2019;7(2):25-35. https://doi.org/10.18552/ijpblhsc.v7i2.645
Newington L, Wells M, Adonis A et al. A qualitative systematic review and thematic synthesis exploring the impacts of clinical academic activity by healthcare professionals outside medicine. BMC Health Serv Res. 2021;21(1):400. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-021-06354-y
NHS England/NHS Improvement. Making research matter: Chief Nursing Officer for England’s strategic plan for research. 2021. https://tinyurl.com/36tfh54j (accessed 11 April 2022)
Olive P, Maxton F, Bell CA et al. Clinical academic research internships: what works for nurses and the wider nursing, midwifery and allied health professional workforce. J Clin Nurs. 2022;31(3-4):318-328. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.15611
Society of Radiographers. Clinical academic radiographer: guidance for the support of new and established roles. https://tinyurl.com/5n7ktu2a (accessed 11 April 2022)
Trusson D, Rowley E, Bramley L. A mixed-methods study of challenges and benefits of clinical academic careers for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals. BMJ Open. 2019;9(10):e030595. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2019-030595
Trusson D, Rowley E, Barratt J. Multimethods study comparing the experiences of medical clinical academics with nurses, midwives and allied health professionals pursuing a clinical academic career. BMJ Open. 2021;11(4):e043270. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-043270
Westwood G, Richardson A, Latter S, Macleod Clark J, Fader M. Building clinical academic leadership capacity: sustainability through partnership. JRes Nurs. 2018;23(4):346-357. https://doi.org/10.1177/1744987117748348