Celebrating mental health nurses in research on Mental Health Nurses Day 2023
Today is the 5th annual Mental Health Nurses Day, and we are shining a light on the vital role that mental health nurses play in research. Mental health nurses’ input into research which improves outcomes for people using mental health services and their families is invaluable. However, while mental health nurses represent the largest staff group working within mental health services, they are also the least likely to be involved in conducting research.
At GMMH we want to change this. We know that mental health nurses bring different experiences and viewpoints to research – perspectives which are currently underrepresented. And we know that research active Trusts have better outcomes for service users. Therefore, we want to get more mental health nurses involved in research and our Mental Health Nursing Research Unit is set up to provide support and guidance.
We talked to three of our nurses who’ve made the move into clinical academic careers, about why and how they got involved in research. There are many other ways to get involved, so please get in touch wherever you are in your research journey, or come along to our free MHNRU showcase on 9th March to find out more.
Alison Dawber, Deputy Director, Mental Health Nursing Research Unit:
“I qualified as a mental health nurse from the University of Manchester in 2016. On qualification I worked on a female acute ward, then I moved to a community mental health nurse/care coordinator role. It was here that I started to formulate my ideas about how to discharge service users in a sustainable way. I wanted to try and establish some best practice guidelines for my Community Mental Health Team (CMHT). In 2018 a colleague saw a poster advertising the NIHR internship and encouraged me to apply saying ‘why don’t you find out the best way to make this change?’.
“I applied and was successful. I was given two mentors who supported me to understand that there was a gap in the research and suggested I look at the pre-doctoral fellowship as an option to develop my ideas and gain a Masters in clinical research methods.
“In 2019 I got a job with GMMH as a research active trust. At the end of my interview, I said to the team manager and senior nurse – ‘I know you are looking for a care coordinator, but I am looking for a team who will support me in my clinical academic career’. They obviously agreed and offered me the job.
“With support from Dr Rob Griffiths from the GMMH Mental Health Nurses Research Unit (MHNRU), I submitted my first pre-doc application at the end of March 2020. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful on that occasion but in 2020, two development opportunities arose. I secured a place on the Florence Nightingale Mental Health Nurse Leadership award (September-October) and a one day a week 12-month senior research nurse secondment to the MHNRU (starting in November).
“Following this another opportunity for a 12-month secondment to the MHNRU as Deputy Director/Research Fellow post was released. With the support of senior management, I was able to apply and was successful in the application process. I now work for the MHNRU three days a week and in a CMHT one day a week. I am about to submit my next pre-doctoral application – wish me luck!”
Miriam Avery, HEE/NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Manchester and GMMH:
“I graduated from University of Manchester with a BNurs in Mental Health Nursing in 2013. My degree programme strongly emphasised the importance of research and evidence-based practice in nursing. After qualifying, I started work as a staff nurse at a CAMHS inpatient unit. I found the work extremely rewarding, but I missed the research side of things and in 2014, I gained a place on a Clinical Scholar Scheme back at the University of Manchester. During this time, with encouragement from my supervisor, I investigated creative therapies for young people’s mental health, and published my first paper based on my undergraduate dissertation.
“I went on to secure an NIHR funded place on the Master of Clinical Research at University of Manchester, while also continuing part time in my CAMHS role. At this time, I felt like I had reached a crossroads and needed to decide whether to pursue a purely clinical career, or a clinical academic career. I took a career break to allow myself time to fully consider my options. Ultimately, I decided research was for me and I came back, completed my MRes, and gained a place on the Pre-Doctoral Clinical Academic Bridging Fellowship, a collaboration between MFT, ARC-GM and the Manchester Clinical Academic Centre.
“Following this, I became a CRN clinical research nurse, supporting on a whole host of different clinical studies. This gave me the opportunity to learn more about the wider research structure within the NHS and the role that the NIHR play in funding and supporting research and researchers. It was challenging but rewarding role, but ultimately my heart lay in mental health research.
“I moved to GMMH, first as a mental health liaison practitioner, then moving into Research & Innovation as a clinical research nurse, where I received a Greater Manchester Health and Care Research Award in 2022 for Exceptional Research Delivery Leadership.
“In 2022, after lots of hard graft on the application (and an initial rejection in 2020) I was awarded funding by the NIHR to complete my Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Manchester, investigating Paediatric Mental Health Services for Children and Young People.”
Lauren Cox, NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow, Trial Manager at GMMH Youth Mental Health Research Unit and PhD student at University of Manchester:
“I graduated as a Mental Health Nurse in 2013, working across inpatient and secondary community services. I had a natural interest in research during my degree, gaining high marks on a project proposal during a research module. My interests were furthered after completing my MSc in Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy for Complex Cases and beginning work in Early Intervention as a CBT Specialist in psychosis.
“Within Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) I was tasked with piloting a new pathway for people at risk of developing psychosis which included providing psychotherapy for this group.
“I noticed there were high levels of dropout and disengagement across the pathway which was highly prescriptive and wanted to understand this further to improve outcomes for this user group.
“I started collating audit data regarding the pathway and published the results, presenting this nationally. I then completed a systematic review regarding valued aspects of EIP services. Soon after I was awarded an ARC NWC research internship which gave me the support and time I needed to develop an application for the Pre-Doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship (PCAF). I also completed an Early Career Researcher programme (NHS R&D NW) whilst seeking out a supervisory team and building my project proposal, which equipped me with leadership and coaching skills and sparked a work creativity (which had been somewhat lost in academia and pursuing qualifications!). During this time I built relationships with an excellent supervisory team and wider research networks.
“The PCAF enabled me to set aside time to apply for an NIHR funded Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship, and to brush up on a variety of my skills, particularly those related to research, while remaining at the frontline in clinical services. During this time I was awarded a Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) bursary (Research Design Service) to complete important work on further writing my project plan through gaining the important views of those with lived experience on how to execute the research. I presented the results at the NIHR Academy Members conference, and used PPI input to shape the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow (CDRF) application.
“I completed the PCAF in a year, applied for a CDRF and was successful. I am jointly hosted by GMMH and University of Manchester. My research is focused on developing a user-centred ancillary NHS care model for those at risk of developing psychosis.”