Susan Hamer says nurses are being ‘sent into war with wooden bayonets’, but new technology could see them advance
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Tasked with developing nursing policy, practice and clinical research, Susan Hamer finds herself in a pivotal role that is as much about looking forward as it is about learning from the past.
As director of nursing, learning and organisational development at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network (CRN), Dr Hamer is required to determine what the nursing field needs – and how to make changes happen.
“A typical day would be me thinking about the future and the sort of skills nurses might need,” she reflects. This could include anything from designing programmes to influencing budgets and recognising acclaimed work within the broader medical community – all of which contribute to the development of skills and resources that nurses need.
Dr Hamer has an extensive background in nursing, having worked both as a community nurse and in hospitals. “You name it, I’ve sort of done it,” she says.
In her current role as an adult educationalist, she contributes to the fields of leadership and practice development by speaking at conferences and writing for medical publications. She also remains clinically active by shadowing nurses once a month and working with colleagues on the development of the healthcare workforce.
For Dr Hamer, a focus on three priority areas would spark improvement in the nursing profession: technology, information structures and leadership.
“The first is adopting digital technologies and being much more assertive in terms of asking for what we need,” she says. “The second is about demonstrating quality and impact – demanding a robust information infrastructure, so that we can demonstrate that trained nurses do make a difference and drive quality standards more effectively.”
Thirdly, Dr Hamer notes that leadership – not just in organisations but in cross-care pathways – is important for providing support to patients, wherever they are.
“The profession itself needs to be more agile, more responsive, more flexible – and that’s contingent on effective leadership,” she says.
Dr Hamer notes that this is no small ask of the broader nursing field, but hopes that nurses will become more confident in these areas.
“The main issues facing nurses now are workforce-related,” she says. “Accessto proper technology and getting nurses the right equipment is the largest concern at the moment.”
According to Dr Hamer, equipping nurses poorly is “like sending soldiers into war with wooden bayonets”.
“They are very poorly resourced for what they need to do,” she says. “In the shorter term, the priority is that nurses need access to digital technologies that match the way they work.”
Such technology could include decision-support tools that alert frontline staff more quickly and systems that make available the information needed for care application in a timely manner. However, the variety of tools available and the different needs of each field of nursing make the case for a particular technology more difficult. But she is well placed to identify the needs of frontline nurses.
As a fellow of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, she has applied her experience of both community and acute settings. Dr Hamer has also written three International Nurses’ Day toolkits for the International Council of Nurses – a feat she is rightly proud of. “I feel that’s quite an achievement – to do something that you know will go global,” she says.
In addition to striving for improvements to workplace resources, Dr Hamer also aims to improve research literacy in the general population. The goal is for both members of the public and medical professionals to have a clear understanding of clinical research, and for patients and nursing staff to communicate effectively.
“With every role, it’s about asking ‘how can I?’ For example, how can I make a difference to patient care?” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever disconnected from that. It’s as relevant in this role as it was when I was putting bandages on people’s legs.”