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UHP clinical nurse specialist reflects on learning from research internship

A head and shoulders shot of Fleur Cousins, with blonde hair wearing blue scrubs

A head and shoulders shot of Fleur Cousins, with blonde hair wearing blue scrubs A Clinical Nurse Specialist at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) has spent the last year taking part in a new internship programme with the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South West Peninsula (PenARC).  

The programme, which launched in September 2022, is designed to help health and social care professionals develop their interests in research, alongside their day-to-day roles. Supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula, the internship saw four candidates gain access to new skills, knowledge and experience through hands-on training.

Fleur Cousins, a Stroke Clinical Nurse Specialist at UHP, is coming to the end of her year-long placement and explains what the opportunity meant to her, and the impact it has had on her role at UHP.

“I chose to do the internship because I was quite interested in research, but I didn’t have any training or experience, so it felt like a bit of a closed world that I didn’t know how to crack open.

“I had never heard of PenARC, but I was forwarded the opportunity by a friend. The internship sounded like it was for people just like me, who were working clinically but wanted to get some research experience, both in how to conduct research and how to understand research in a healthcare setting, and how that might then impact work.

“My interest was in social prescribing, so I wanted to look at signposting, health promotion, and stroke prevention. I was assigned an amazing researcher to be my mentor, Professor Kerryn Husk and I was able to spend a year working with Kerryn on a project, as well as doing some more formal training, which, for me, included completing a MSc research design module at Exeter University.

“After conducting my studies, I was assigned to a social prescribing project. I was working on a project looking at prescribing green spaces and gardening across two sites for people with mild to moderate mental health problems. We were progressing from a small feasibility trial to qualify for a larger full trial and I managed to get some really good hands-on experience about how trials work and the process for recruiting participants, data collection, analysis and synthesis.  

“As a nurse here at UHP, when you think about research, you usually think about work that the medic led work and the Research and Development department clinical trials. Whereas this is was a fantastic opportunity for me to look at what I'm interested in and how I can apply those skills to what I'm doing in my role now in stroke medicine.

“From a professional perspective, it's given me the skills that I need to quantify some of the things that I do in my role. I see patients every day and it's enabled me to look at cases in more detail and use the data I can collect to actually think about areas where we can promote things like stroke prevention to then better the lives of those patients using applied research.

“Since starting the internship, I’ve created and run a South West Peninsula Network day for all stroke nurses and all stroke practitioners across Devon and Cornwall. I think it was the internship that gave me the confidence to just say ‘actually I can do this, and I can reach out to all these practitioners that are across the whole of Devon and Cornwall and link them with a common theme of we want to be better in stroke services and we want to be better for our patients’.

“From a personal perspective, it’s encouraged me to do more professional practice. I was already quite interested in in doing some advanced clinical practice (ACP) training but wasn't too sure if it was for me but having the confidence to do the research arm of it, I'm now doing the Advanced Assessment module and hope to complete more of the ACP pathway for the stroke service.

“As it complements your existing role, it is hard work. You have to put in the effort, but you get a lot out of it for yourself, your area of work, your career progression and potentially your patients. Overall, it’s helped my work and my directorate, and it's helped me personally.”

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust has a well-established reputation for high quality research and a strong record of participation in commercial and non-commercial clinical trials. If you are interested in learning more about the research opportunities available at UHP, you can find more information about the Research and Development team here.

Professor Vicki Goodwin MBE is the Academic Career Development lead for PenARC and established the internship programme to support health and social care professionals who have had little or no opportunity to get a taster of all things research. Speaking about the internship Vicki said: “This pilot programme has had a huge impact on the people who took part. As well as increasing their knowledge and research skills, it has allowed them to transfer these skills directly to their practice for the benefit of patients and services”.

PenARC works alongside health and social care professionals, researchers and local communities to address the immediate issues facing the health and social care system through applied health and care research. Find further information about PenARC and the training they offer here.

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