Increasing Nursing Research Awareness – can we shift the culture?

Today on International Nurses Day I find myself reflecting on my long journey as a nurse. This year I have been a nurse for 39 years. At the start of my nursing career everything was recorded with paper and pen and here I am writing this blog on my laptop, and earlier I attended a virtual meeting, something that was not possible or that I could have imagined in 1983.

Of course, there have been many other societal, professional and NHS changes, particularly when it comes to patient care and NHS workforce. In recent years we have seen significant re-profiling of our nursing and allied healthcare professions to meet challenges associated with Covid-19 and the after affects (of course it’s not over yet). Some of these changes have included the introduction of technology related to delivering direct patient care. In particular the use of virtual communication has been a great aide during the days of ‘no visitors’ on our wards and sadly for some patients and relatives this has been the only way that they were able to say farewell to their loved ones prior to departing this earth. We could not have imagined that smart technology could play such a poignant and vital role at such a sad and important time in people’s lives.

Through the COVID-Nurse Trial I have analysed some of the interviews with nurses who participated in the trial. Through the trial a Covid care guideline was developed to help nurses with delivering fundamental nursing care to covid positive patients.

The nurses who were interviewed often spoke of their internal conflict and sadness regarding the need to wear PPE and how this affected their ability to hold a patient’s hand ‘skin to skin’ when patients were frightened, feeling alone or taking their final breaths. The main thing that struck me, from these interviews, was the level of compassion, Care and personal emotional connectedness with another human being, that these nurses had with their patients. For me this is the essence of being a nurse and is one of the factors that draws people to becoming a nurse, or other healthcare professional.

I am sure that it is not unique to being a nurse, we see this human connectedness all the time not only in healthcare but in other public services and other roles. Sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge this when so many challenging things are happening in the world around us, but little reminders through moments of kindness are like gold dust and help me stay positive.

I now find myself involved with some of our national groups and efforts to highlight the importance of evidence based practice and research with nurses and midwives. Too often I’ve heard the statement ‘nurses don’t do research’ or ‘I don’t know how to do research’, so we have a professional cultural change that needs to take place so that nurses see themselves as those who Care, have technical clinical skills and who are researchers. Not all nurses will want or need to lead research, but we do need nurses who are research champions and who can and do facilitate and promote research. Do I think that it’s possible to shift the culture to a new norm? Yes, I think there is more possibility of this happening now than ever before. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of research and how it’s been the solution through vaccines and trials of new treatments. This has sent a strong message to nurses, midwives and other NHS and Care staff. We also have a new Nursing Research strategy published by the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) for England and new leadership roles for Nursing and Midwifery both within the CNO for England team at NHSEI and at the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). So we are looking good and the time is ripe for change. 

I look forward to my 40th year as a nurse and feel excited at the opportunities future nurses will have at their feet to become research engaged and may become closely involved in improving care through undertaking research themselves. Happy International Nurses Day!

Thanks, Heather

Professor H Iles-Smith (she, her, hers)

Professor of Nursing University of Salford and Northern Care Alliance NHS Group

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nursing and Midwifery Incubator- Chair