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'As health professionals, we are closest to the communities we seek to serve'

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International Nurses Day is always an exciting time in the nursing calendar. It is a great opportunity to celebrate the contribution of nurses and midwives and the variety of ways we contribute to health and care. 

susan hamer

The local story is often easy to present but the links to the wider global nurse community can seem less clear. If you look a little closer, the connections that link nurses across countries and continents are stronger than ever.

Technology and networks are not just changing our day to day work, they are changing where we work, and how far and who we can reach in a single shift. This is especially so in my field of practice – clinical research.

Here it is not uncommon for studies to be carried out simultaneously in several countries. We see patients (and their research data) connected via the power of the internet to international research teams, at the centre of which are nurses: nurses who network and share best practice, whose patients are not defined by a building but by the reach of the trial pathway.

The global number of registered clinical trials increased five-fold between 2004 and 2013, and today nearly every country in the world has participated in clinical trials. This is good news for patients. Particularly in the case of rare diseases where the chances of finding a new treatment option sooner are increased.

The prospect of an international research solution to a health need has also empowered patient communities to network and share. This has enabled patients to influence research questions, pool their data and work actively with research teams to design and deliver studies.

Increasingly, across many different health systems, patients and clinicians expect access to clinical studies to be a core part of the treatment pathway. Of course this is not without its challenges, particularly in countries where access to research infrastructure is limited.

Yet, even in these circumstances there is still a real possibility that patients can access research studies. We can now recruit participants online and share data across the world. There is no denying that access to clinical research is being democratised by the internet and the reach of international study teams.

”Nurses are at the heart of health teams, playing a crucial role in promoting health, preventing disease and treating patients”

Research looking at international collaborations in clinical research has shown that large teams involving international collaboration are growing, and that these teams can use multidisciplinary strengths to improve the quality and speed of research work.

Moreover, when it comes to developing countries or less experienced institutes, international collaboration is an important source of additional expertise. There is then greater potential to involve patients from a wider range of demographics and improve outcomes in different communities.

The recent launch of Nursing Now, a three-year global campaign run in collaboration with the International Council of Nurses and the World Health Organization, is a perfect example of how we can act locally to develop global reach.

Nurses are at the heart of health teams, playing a crucial role in promoting health, preventing disease and treating patients. As health professionals, we are closest to the communities we seek to serve. This affords us so many opportunities to reach out to patients. In a word: connect.

Susan Hamer is director of nursing, learning and organisational development, National Institute for Health Research

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