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'As a clinical practice nurse with a PhD, I'll be writing my own job description'

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As the end of her PhD approaches, Liz shares her thoughts on how the role of nurses within research is expanding

I am at the stage of writing up my PhD thesis and at the end of this grueling journey there are two critical stages remaining in order for me to realise my ambition of a ‘clinical academic career’. I need to survive my viva and them I need to pave my own way for a clinical academic career.

I’m not the first nurse to complete a PhD, in fact nurses starting doing PhDs in 1954. Even so, nurses with a PhD who work in clinical practice only account for an extremely small proportion of the nursing workforce. So, the difficulty the NHS has in deciding how best to develop and then utilise the research and academic skills of such nurses is not surprising.

Let’s be clear, a nurse with a PhD has developed the skills needed to conduct research independently, to add to the body of available nursing research knowledge.

“Clinical academic posts remain a relatively ‘new’ role for nurses”

Traditionally, career pathway developments supported clinical academic roles, which were education-focused, but the emphasis is gradually changing to support the development of ‘research-focused’ clinical academic roles (UK Clinical Research Collaboration, 2007). So, while many nurses with a PhD can and do work in university settings, it is also essential for some that they are able to create ‘research focused roles in clinical areas’.

Clinical academic posts are not a new concept most especially for those working in the medical profession. Yet, they remain a relatively ‘new’ role for nurses, despite national policy guidance (Department of Health, 2012).

But perhaps the time for change has arrived?

2016 saw the emergence of tangible national guidance to build a non-medical academic career, in a practice setting (National Institute for Health Research). In November 2016, the Association of United Kingdom University Hospitals produced excellent guidance for budding clinical academics (Carrick-Sen, 2016). And, recently in a survey by Nursing Times and National Institute for Health Research and Health Education England (2017) it was cited that nurses wishing to pursue a clinical academic career will need to have ‘a similar set up to doctors to enable research as an active part of their career’.

“A structure for the clinical academic role is emerging”

So, although it’s early days, I feel I am on the cusp of exciting times and a structure for the clinical academic role is emerging, albeit slowly!

I am in the privileged position of writing my own job description, which I confess, was not my own idea, rather, suggested to me by a nursing professor at my local university. I am also well supported within my organisation. I am sure there will be plenty of hurdles to overcome, but equally the reward of having research acknowledged as a core aspect of my role going forward, convinces me it will be worth the time invested.

My advice for those in a similar position is to share information regarding their progression from PhD and emergent job descriptions, to create the much-needed momentum from within the NHS. This will help others follow in the footsteps of non-medical clinical academics without re-inventing the wheel.

Liz Lees-Deutsch, consultant nurse and NIHR funded PhD student



Clinical Research Collaboration

Carrick-Sen, D; Richardson, A; Moore A; Dolan, S (2016), Transforming Healthcare Through Clinical Academic Roles in Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions: A Practical Resource For Healthcare Provider Organisations, AUKUH, London

Department of Health (2012) Developing the role of the Clinical Academic Researcher in the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions. Department of Health, London.

UK Clinical Research Collaboration (2007) Developing the best research professionals. Report of the UKCRC Sub-Committee for Nurses in Clinical Research (Workforce). London:

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