Wednesday 24th June 2015
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Summer 2015
Karen Lord is a Macmillan Clinical Academic in Palliative Care and has been in her post at Leicester Royal Infirmary since May 2013
How did your professional background lead to this position?
My interest in research predates my nursing career. I developed an early appreciation for research-based evidence through listening to my father talk of his work as a research chemist, testing medicines to treat asthma. In my nursing career, I have accepted opportunities to participate in research activities when relevant to improving patient care, particularly in cancer nursing and palliative care.
How did your current role come about?
In 2012, I was considering what my next career move might be, as I anticipated completing a PhD through the University of Leicester. I had continued to work clinically within the Specialist Palliative Care Team (SPCT) at the University Hospital of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL) throughout my studies and was keen to retain this role. Ideally I wanted to use my research skills as well. At that time this aspiration seemed a distant possibility.
However, earlier in 2012 the Department of Health had published a paper on the role of the clinical academic. It was an attractive idea, and more through hope than expectation, I discussed the proposal with my manager. After these discussions, a bid for funding for an innovative new post within the team was submitted to Macmillan, and a substantive post was secured. Macmillan sponsored the post for a two-year period, with funding continued by UHL thereafter. The post was advertised nationally and I felt fortunate to have been appointed.
What does your role involve?
Since May 2013, I have continued to work clinically for an average of two days a week as part of the SPCT, supporting patients and their family carers. I advise on how best to control distressing symptoms of cancer and other life-limiting conditions, signpost to information and services, and provide psychological support, particularly around future-care planning.
A second element of the role is to foster evidence-based practice and provide support to nurses who are interested in research activities. Currently, in liaison with respiratory ward staff, I am designing an evidence-based ‘pocket guide to palliative care’ for those with life-limiting respiratory conditions. It may prove to be a model for use in other specialties.
Within the SPCT, it has now become the norm to hear me introduce research news relevant to a topic under discussion, and to see articles posted on ‘research’ notice boards. I also enjoy supporting nurses in navigating clinical research and academic writing.
How do you work with others to improve care through your research?
Collaborative partnerships are essential to modern healthcare research. I have focused on forming closer working relationships with other clinicians researching and caring for people affected by mesothelioma. Many people with mesothelioma have a poor or uncertain prognosis and their needs remain under-researched. I am investigating care pathways and experiences of people affected by mesothelioma, with the aim of identifying areas for service development and testing a model of care which could improve experiences for people with cancer and their carers.
By combining clinical and academic elements in one role, I can remain sensitive to the current needs of people receiving palliative care.
How do you cope with the challenges of your role?
I hear many stories from people with cancer in my clinical role, some of which are very sad. Meanwhile research involves the often slow and time-consuming processes needed to apply for financial sponsorship. Therefore it is important for me to retain equilibrium, which I do at work through fostering mutually supportive relationships with clinical and research colleagues, and with our Macmillan Development Manager, Maxine Astley-Pepper. Recharging my batteries outside of work, which includes working on my allotment, also helps.
There were early challenges in this role, mainly related to my approach to managing the agendas of several stakeholders. A leadership course was suggested by a senior nursing colleague, and soon afterwards I was selected to attend the East Midland Leadership Programme. The programme gave me insights into how to work to my strengths. It also gave me greater awareness of how best to understand and work with multiple teams and organisations. This has been invaluable in building my confidence and was pivotal in my decision to take a more proactive approach to this role.
What are the rewards?
Having contact with people affected by cancer and being able to make a positive difference to their quality of life remains central to my job satisfaction. To be able to combine this with the intellectual stimulation of research activities, together with supporting other nurses to bridge the clinical academic gap, is the icing on the cake.
1. Department of Health. Developing the Role of the Clinical Academic Researcher in the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions: A proposal for the role of clinical academic. March 2012.
Contact Karen at email@example.com.