During the summer of 2022 I asked the co-director of the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust’s Clinical Research Facility (CRF), how a student mental health nurse can get their foot in the door with research? She suggested I request a placement at the CRF to get a feel for it. I acted on her advice and was lucky enough to be granted a placement.
I was very excited to begin this placement knowing that research is the career I want to pursue. I was nervous about what to expect even though I had some experience from a previous placement with a qualitative research delivery team, however I knew this was completely different to the C-TIMPS I would be working on at the CRF. I was unsure how the participants would present and how the research process works.
I am pleased to say that from the outset the team at the CRF were warm, welcoming, knowledgeable, and extremely supportive. I quickly learned that this placement would be completely different from my other placement experience. I was surprised how physical health focused the CRF was even though it is a mental health research facility, and now looking back it makes complete sense. The safety of the participants is the top priority for the CRF, hence conducting thorough health assessments is vital to ensure they are safe to participate. Therefore, the CRF has given me the opportunity to practice many physical health skills as mentioned above that are utilised less frequently in other mental health placements.
There was also the opportunity to complete psychological rating scale assessments such as the ACE II, CDR and C-SSRS which has helped to develop my knowledge of implementing psychological tools. There was also the opportunity to attend physical health training sessions and research related e-learning such as ‘Good Clinical Practice’ (GCP), the human tissue act and moving samples and study operating procedures.
These learning opportunities increased my confidence significantly, safe in the knowledge that I would leave the CRF with a much broader understanding of nursing and research skills. For example, I had the opportunity to conduct ECG and vital signs assessments, support IV infusions and lumbar puncture (LP) procedures, learn phlebotomy and study documentation skills. Supporting LP’s and IV infusions as well as learning phlebotomy skills was a huge achievement for me since I am very uncomfortable with needles, a fear which I overcame during this placement.
I was surprised how much contact time there is with participants, given that they are not ‘patients’ receiving ‘treatment’ as they are attending on a voluntary basis; I had a pre-conceived idea that research would have very little contact time. I was wrong. I learned that as a research nurse you must build a therapeutic relationship quickly, however, the time that is spent with participants is brilliant as you give them your undivided attention. In contrast, on a ward you could be distracted by an emergency, organising section 17 leave, or completing tribunal paperwork. Therefore, the visits with each participant, which could be up to 3 hours, is precious time which enabled me to develop that therapeutic relationship.
I have noticed that for a student mental health nurse, the pathway to research is not as clear compared to those who want to go into ward or community based clinical practice. The CRF has given me the experience, skills, and opportunity to build professional relationships that will support me in finding my way into a research career. This support is evidenced by an opportunity I have accepted to support the screening of articles for a systematic review being conducted by one of the CRF psychiatrists in the new year. This means even when my placement has finished, I will be continuing to learn new research skills.
Thanks to the CRF team, I am eager to see where I will be working when I qualify, and I can’t wait to begin this fantastic career journey in research.
For more information on the NIHR Oxford Cognitive Health Clinical Research facility click here.