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'Research is not something that solely happens in universities'

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Julie Armoogum tells Claire Read about how she became interested in a career in research 

Julie Armoogum knew from an early age that she wanted to be a nurse. But she says it wasn’t until she went to university that she truly understood everything her chosen profession could encompass. 

Notably, that included the opportunity for research into the best way to provide the holistic healthcare she’d always wanted to offer.

“That degree course had quite a lot of impact on the professional that I now am,” says Ms Armoogum, Macmillan senior lecturer at UWE (University of the West of England) Bristol. “There was a real research element running through it. Nurses who were experts in research came to talk to us.

“Until then I hadn’t really realised that was available for nursing. It was recognising that research was another pathway. And another contribution to patient care.”

It’s a piece of knowledge she says she now tries hard to pass onto her students. In the specialist cancer care module she teaches for undergraduates, she says a key aim is “enthusing” about different career options; showing all the paths the profession can offer.

“We bring in a research nurse, we bring in nurse managers, we bring in people from hospice – nurses from a range of different clinical areas, so that our students can be exposed to those options.” 

For Ms Armoogum, teaching and research is a thread that has run throughout her career. During 10 years spent at University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust, she held roles as a clinical nurse specialist, a research sister, and finally one in education.

“You learn about your skills and your strengths during your career and I feel a real skill of mine is being able to communicate quite complex situations quite straightforwardly,” she reports.

“When I was a research nurse that really helped, understanding a complex research protocol and explaining that to patients. So teaching seemed quite a natural fit for me.”

And it offered an opportunity to further advance her research. “The manager I had at that time really put a lot of trust in me, gave me a lot of professional freedom, and really encouraged me. What she wanted to do was recognise that research and evaluation has a place in nursing practice; that’s it not something that solely happens in universities.

“So I did quite a lot of work with the nurses on the ward, brainstorming projects that they wanted to do; that they thought were important to their practice. I worked with some junior nurses and with some more established nurses who were very junior to research and evaluation.”

It felt, she says, like she was “empowering” nurses to make research part of their daily work. And it remains part of hers – alongside her teaching responsibilities, Ms Armoogum is currently completing a PhD on the experiences and needs of cancer survivors living with chronic pain.

She admits that in some quarters there can be a sense that “real” nurses are those at the beside. “But I think actually I have a much better grasp now of the whole patient experience – from diagnosis until living with and beyond cancer or end of life care – than I did in the particular area of practice I was working in.”

Asked what advice she gives to newly qualified and junior nurses about career paths, she remembers something she was told early on in her own time in the profession.

“When I was a student nurse working bank, one of the ward sisters said to me: ‘Don’t overthink it, just do six months medical, six months surgical, don’t worry about where you’ve going to end up, just get this first year under your belt. Look after yourself, and look after the patients that you’re looking after that day, and just get a bit of experience’.”

She thinks it’s good advice, and adds to it a recommendation to seize opportunities. “It’s OK not to know where you want to end up. It’s about taking opportunities, and seeing where they take you.

“If you’ve got an opportunity to do a course, do it, because you don’t know whether that might become the link to a future job”.

The reality is that personal connections can also be links to new roles, of course. But while Ms Armoogum advocates pursuing such links, she eschews the word “networking”.

“I think it makes nurses feel uncomfortable, because it’s all feels a bit strategic. So I talk about creating professional support networks.” That means finding people who are of a like mind, sharing a specific attitude to nursing practice – and they might not always be in your own organisation.

“When I was at UCLH, those networks were actually very local to the team that I was working with. But as I’ve moved around, I realise that my professional networks aren’t simply in my organisation, but they’re around the whole country.

“Touching base with people, even if it’s only once every year at a conference, is really valuable to making you think: ‘Oh, yes, I’m not on my own here. We’re all part of a bigger picture’.”

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