Graham is a CRUK Cambridge Centre NAHP programme member, and a research nurse with vast experience in translational research focusing on early cancer detection. He is currently a fellow on the East of England HEE/ICA Pre-doctoral Bridging Programme.
Can you tell us about your current role?
I am currently part of a multidisciplinary team delivering translational research in the early detection of cancer for ACED Clinic Cambridge, part of the International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection or ACED Alliance. We manage a longitudinal cohort or bio-resource of healthy volunteers and run a diverse portfolio of translational studies in early cancer detection. These include cutting-edge breath analysis, novel biomarker detection in familial inherited conditions and the surveillance of pre-cancerous conditions.
In your opinion, what is the most valuable course or training programme that you have taken as a research nurse and why?
As a research nurse this was undoubtedly the excellent training I received from the Clinical Research Network, East of England team at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Informed Consent and Good Clinical Practice (GCP). The training provided the historical context for GCP and the founding principles of the Declaration of Helsinki, these being the Nuremberg Doctors’ trials, the injustices of the Tuskegee study in the United States of America and closer to home, the Northwick Park tragedy from 2006.
These courses provide the contextual framework in which modern clinical research is conducted. For me, they are a potent and daily reminder of the obligations we have to our participants for their safety and also the safeguarding of research integrity.
Can you tell us about your experience in pursuing continuing education and its importance to your professional development?
I have recently completed a two-year part time Master’s degree at the University of Cambridge which would not have been possible without the excellent support from my colleagues in the Department of Oncology. I am also extremely grateful to Health Education England (HEE) for the funding. The University of Cambridge provides a wealth of resources and I have really appreciated studying in a diverse interdisciplinary and multicultural cohort.
Genomics is increasingly relevant to diagnosis and treatment and as such has been adopted by the NHS. Completing the Master’s has enabled me to apply for further funding in the form of the NIHR backed HEE ICA programme which prepares allied health professionals to make competitive grant applications for doctoral study.
Can you discuss your experience with the Health Education England (HEE) Integrated Clinical Academic (ICA) Programme and how has it supported you as a research nurse?
The Integrated Clinical Academic programme is funded by HEE and in the East of England is run by Clinical Academics Careers East. The programme is unique with the 2022-23 intake a small cohort of five allied health professionals all with completely different specialisms and perspectives. As such, our training programmes are individual and tailored to our needs.
Holding the Fellowship is a privilege, and it has certainly opened doors to conversations. Academics and clinicians from differing disciplines such as surgery and public health have generously given their time to talk through ideas and I have a great mentor at the University of East Anglia.
The taught masterclasses cover diverse areas including patient and public involvement, research design, intellectual property, and budget allocation. These classes have provided new skill sets that I will take back to my day job. I need to also mention the fantastic support of the team at the Research Design Service who are on hand to support fellows on our research journey.
How do you think the HEE ICA programme benefits the nursing and AHP profession as a whole?
The current fellows and I are preceded by colleagues who are already taking up senior roles as NIHR post-doctoral fellows, raising the profile of all allied health professionals.
The HEE ICA programme invests in both the person and the project. In this way, innovative ideas which have the potential to translate into patient benefit are supported. Improved patient outcomes reflect what the allied health professions are capable of. It’s a long game but the programme offers fellows the skills and opportunities to contribute.
What is one thing that helped prepare you for this pathway of professional development?
Grant funders like to see a mature and established publishing record or record of research output. Getting involved in audit, PPI groups, presenting posters and submitting abstracts all help to build a profile which demonstrates a credible research candidate. It’s never too early in a career to start doing that and of course, building a profile doesn’t happen overnight so now is a good time to start.
Auditing in your area of practice is a potential starting point. It can lead to important clinical questions which in turn can lead to research output and publications. Presenting posters and abstracts at conferences grows experience, shows creativity and commitment and will strengthen funding applications.
How would you encourage or support your colleagues to pursue post-graduate education or courses for professional development?
I would advise them to look for opportunities that will interest them and that they will enjoy. Secure support from your line manager from the start and make the case for why the additional skills will benefit your daily work. Find a champion or mentor who you can share ideas with and find an expert in your area of interest for some sound advice.
How do you see the nursing profession evolving in the future, and how can pursuing post-graduate education help our NAHP programme members stay ahead of the curve?
Advanced training for nurses has been available for a long time and the new clinical academic pathways complement these developments. Advanced practitioners of the future will be able to lead research in their clinical areas.
Nursing is becoming more integrated into multidisciplinary research with more opportunities for funded PhD fellowships. As these doctoral candidates graduate, they are in excellent positions to lead projects and drive innovative research to improve outcomes for patients. Historically these opportunities for allied health professionals haven’t always been there. This is changing and now is a great time to get involved, take advantage, and make a difference.