BLOG: My role as a Research Practitioner for Rheumatology at the MRI and Trafford General
Author: JoAnn Nicholson
Getting into the role of research
I had worked in the
Research Office as a research support officer for a few years
approving research studies and always enjoyed reading about the
various studies that were happening across the Trust. I have
diabetes and participated in a couple of studies as a patient and
felt this is what I wanted to do, be part of the front end of
I spoke to a few
Trial Coordinators and
Divisional Research Managers about other research roles I could
do. I also discussed this with my line manager at my annual
appraisal and luckily my manager supported me in my aspirations for
a career change and I was able to arrange a couple of mornings and
afternoons shadowing research coordinators. I observed them going
about their role: from patient contact to the administrative side
to see if it was something I wanted to do, and more
importantly, could do.
The administration side of the role I could definitely do as I
love my processes and planning! But, I was unsure if the patient
role would suit me. Would I be able to sell a
study to a patient? Would I be able to empathise? And, more
importantly, would I be too squeamish?
The defining moment for me was when I shadowed my colleagues at
Royal Manchester Eye Hospital and watched ground-breaking treatment
up close. I didn't feel squeamish. I was totally enthralled
and fascinated by the procedure and a few weeks after, I was able
to see the impact this had had on each patient, the joy that they
had better vision and the difference it made to their lives.
I was full of enthusiasm, knowing that this is what I wanted to
do. I knew it wouldn't all be big impact results, and that most
studies don't involve pioneering procedures on the day but it had
confirmed that I wanted to have the patient contact, to be
involved, however briefly, in patients' lives.
I applied for the rheumatology role as it offered the best of
both worlds: patient contact and administration. I had no knowledge
of rheumatology, other than thinking it was just about aching bones
and deformed hands! I got the job and was so pleased to get the
opportunity to have patient contact and learn new things.
It has been a huge learning curve and still is. I am
constantly learning about all the different complexities of
rheumatologic diseases, the medication prescribed and the effect
that the disease(s) have on patients' lives and their families.
I had to learn to be a phlebotomist as some of the studies
involve blood testing. I have learnt about centrifuges, spinning
bloods and freezing samples, approaching patients and data
collection - all new skills.
Working across two sites:
The role involves me working across two Central Manchester
University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust sites: Manchester Royal
Infirmary (MRI) for three days a week and Trafford General Hospital
for the other two days per week.
As I am not clinical, I am not usually involved in clinical drug
trials. I mainly oversee observational studies: generally
recruiting the patient, taking samples and completing
questionnaires. I enjoy the variety of each setting, both totally
MRI has eight consultants, four registrars, three nurse
specialists, four dedicated research nurses, one clinical trial
assistant and a clinical trial coordinator.
Here we have a large cohort of patients and because research is
now well established at the
Kellgren Centre, staff are happy to be approached by patients,
colleagues and other staff members, about research studies that may
be of interest to them and that they are eligible for. At MRI, a
lot of the processes were established and in place and I just
slotted in, helping with the already established studies and
forging my place within the team.
Being part of the larger team has been invaluable to my
learning, members of the research team at MRI are happy to take
time to show you new processes and teach new skills for the role of
Trafford has two consultants, one speciality trainee doctor and
three specialist nurses and I am the research coordinator.
It has taken a while to find my feet at Trafford, especially as
it was just me coordinating the research. As I started to settle
into the role, I was able to identify the names of suitable
patients, and with support from my manager and the Trafford team,
we started to see results. We came up with new ideas and
methods for the consultants and nurses to refer patients for a
study that was going to mean the least amount of extra work for
I attend weekly meetings as often as I can so that I can
showcase the studies and inform the Trafford team of the
recruitment figures and help come up with new ideas for
recruitment. I have research folders that are put in each clinic
room so the staff can refer to them. In these are brief summaries
of each study. I highlight any patient I am interested in and try
and speak to the patient before they go into the consultation and
make the staff aware of their decision to participate or not.
Approaching the patients can be difficult as there is no
dedicated clinic room for you to speak to potential research
patients as we use a main outpatient clinic so I have to be very
mindful of confidentiality.
Trafford has more observational studies and recruitment is
improving all the time now that I am there on a regular basis to
promote research and coordinate recruitment.
A lot of the patients come from far and wide so sometimes travel
is too much for them to attend an extra appointment. You have to be
mindful of each individual patient's circumstances: can they get to
hospital any time or do they work? With the advancement in
treatment, patients are more likely to be able to work. You also
have to be careful that you don't overload the patient with
potential studies. The last thing you need is for your cohort of
patients to get research fatigue. In both settings, most patients
are very receptive to participating. It is generally distance or
work commitments that prevent them from taking part.
I find as long as you smile, show empathy and LISTEN, patients
want to help. They want to be part of something that may change the
future of the disease even if it won't necessarily directly help
them at that time. They think of their families and fellow patients
who have the disease.
I try and tell patients of my own experience of taking part in
diabetic research and why I do it, why I love my role.
My role doesn't end once patients signed a consent form. Studies
can require the patients to come back for several follow up visits.
Establishing a rapport with patients is so important so you are
able to follow them up and encourage them to complete the two/
three/ four questionnaires they may receive. You want to provide
the researcher and study sponsor with the best data that you can so
you need processes in place so that patients don't slip through the
net. If patients don't complete the study, you need to ask why, so
that it can be fed back. It's not a criticism of the patient.
Circumstances change, roles change. I always stress to patients
that they are under no obligation and it won't affect their
I enjoy the differences between each setting. At MRI, I am part
of a large research team which is part of the larger rheumatology
service, very much dedicated to research. MRI is a big hospital
site with its busy bustling corridors and thousands of staff and
patients. At Trafford, it is essentially me flying the research
flag with the fantastic assistance of the rheumatology team but the
hospital is a quieter, calmer setting.
It's the best of both worlds, which is why I love my job as a