In this first-person interview, Alison tells us about her experience as a mental health nurse, her new role at the Mental Health Nursing Research Unit (MHNRU) and her advice to other nurses who want to get involved in research.
Alison Dawber is a Community Psychiatric Nurse at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH). She has recently been granted a secondment opportunity to work in a research capacity one day a week at the Trust's newly launched Mental Health Nursing Research Unit (MHNRU).
“I realised that I wanted to help people like my friend who'd been in a dark place."
We began by discussing Alison's journey to become a Mental Health Nurse:
“I had a few careers before becoming a nurse. I used to be a buyer, doing competitive tendering for various organisations, which I absolutely hated. So I knew I needed to make a change. I ended up working at Citizens Advice, where I worked directly with many members of the public. I ended up being the one amongst my colleagues who would step forward and help out people who were in significant distress.
“I decided that I wanted to be in a role where I could help people who were struggling, as I felt that I could personally offer support. So I volunteered for Bristol Mind Line, an anonymous support line, every evening. There, I did anonymous calls with people with significant mental health issues.
“It was at this point that I reflected upon my life so far. One of my best friends had ended up in a psychiatric unit when I was 18, and I wondered whether this had drawn me into this particular area of work. I realised that I wanted to help people like my friend who'd been in a dark place. This propelled me forward, and from there I undertook a Mental Health Nursing degree at the University of Manchester, and never looked back."
“Quite quickly into my research, I realised there isn't much research out there at all."
One week after graduating, Alison started work as a Mental Health Nurse at in a female acute unit at Moorside Unit at GMMH. Following this, Alison worked for Pennine Care in Stockport, where her interest in research first began:
“During my time at Pennine Care, I did an NIHR ARC NWC Research Internship. This was a 30-day internship, during which I could do research into basically anything I wanted. Because there was a lot of organisational change going on at the time, I wanted to use my internship to identify best practice guidelines for discharging people in Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs) because I noticed it was a function that can be quite inconsistent, as it's very much dependent on the individual team and its setup. Quite quickly into my research, I realised there isn't much research out there at all about that, or about many other things in CMHTs, so I want to do some research into this area in order to standardise processes and support recovery."
“My end goal is to understand the CMHT discharge process - from a clinician perspective and from a service user perspective – in order to develop best practice guidelines."
Now at the MHNRU, Alison hopes to spend the time developing her understanding of this area:
“My end goal is to understand the CMHT discharge process - from a clinician perspective and from a service user perspective – in order to develop best practice guidelines. This will be a long process, and my new role will be the first part of that. During my secondment, I will focus on where we're at at the moment, auditing and understanding what discharge looks like across the Trust. My hope is that, from there, I'll be able to apply for a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, to build upon and develop this understanding."
“If we're missing a massive part of the workforce, who can see first-hand what the problems are and bring this unique and vital insight, we're missing out."
One of the key aims of the MHNRU is to get nurses more involved in research, which Alison sees as an absolutely vital part of the process:
“It's important to get nurses involved. They are such a key part of multi-disciplinary teams. They have experience in wards and in the community, and that experience in itself is such a unique one. I see research as a way to see what we're currently doing, and to make it better. If we're missing a massive part of the workforce, who can see first-hand what the problems are and bring this unique and vital insight, we're missing out.
“It takes years to get something from a piece of completed research to actual change on the front line. The snail's pace of innovation isn't working. The term 'research' covers a plethora of things and it's getting people to think differently about that. If we flip the process and actually start research on the front line, things can get improved faster."
“My advice to any nurses wanting to get involved in research would be: be bold, ask for help."
Finally, we discussed the barriers that nurses may face to getting involved in research, and Alison shared her advice to other nurses who want to get involved:
“The main barrier is the circle of time, resource and money. When you're a nurse, you have a limited amount of all three! This secondment has given me the breathing space I need to focus on research and embed it into my role.
“My advice to any nurses wanting to get involved in research would be: be bold, ask for help. I initially applied for a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship after completing my internship, and the application process was like wading through treacle – it was so outside of my comfort zone, requiring big pieces of work, and I didn't have anyone to ask for help. I went to a research day and a Professor was there. I thought 'Be brave. Go up to her.' So I did, and after that, she invited me for a cup of coffee. From there, she mentored me throughout the application process, which was a huge help. Though I wasn't successful, by that time this secondment opportunity at the MHNRU had come up. And through this mentoring, I had been given the confidence to make connections and move forward with my research career."
If you are a Nurse interested in getting involved in Research, please discuss this with your manager as part of your appraisal.
If you would like to find out more about Research at GMMH, visit: gmmh.nhs.uk/research.