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ROLE MODEL

'The NHS can be guilty of introducing changes without due regard to evidence'

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By conducting research, Liz Lees strives to make sure nursing is robust and evidence based

Liz Lees

Before she wanted to be a nurse, Liz Lees, consultant nurse in acute medicine, wanted to be a caterer or maybe a lawyer. Seeing the good end-of-life care her grandparents were given in hospital however made her think about a different career path - one helping others.

She trained at United Midlands College for Nursing as an RGN and, many years, later achieved a first-class BSc (Hons) degree in nursing, followed by a Masters. In time, she discovered a love for audit and research that led to her pursuing funding for a PhD through the National Institute for Health Research, the research branch of the NHS. “Without their support [with training and costs] I couldn’t do what I’m doing now,” Ms Lees says.

That passion for research was first able to flourish in 2002 when she became a consultant nurse. In this role she started service developments that required supporting evidence to be able to change practice. One such example, she recalls, was “bringing elements of the community into the hospital”, creating “an opportunity to really make a difference.”

Now Ms Lees is deep into a fellowship through the NIHR, researching risk assessments for discharge planning and hoping to gain a PhD. “The fellowship has given me the opportunity for research training which I can take back into practice” she says.

“The fellowship has given me the opportunity for research training which I can take back into practice”

“Being a full-time student again after 24 years in the NHS is a strange experience, and you have to be prepared to develop both new networks and career relationships,” Ms Lees says.

She has worked on both through her fellowship: she feels highly privileged to have been invited to meet senior researchers focusing on discharge planning in Hong Kong and Sydney, has formed essential collaborations for future research and has an opportunity in future to contribute to a lecture series.

Her research, ROAD (Risk Objective Assessments for Discharge), is focused only on acute medicine in emergency care. Through the clinical doctoral research fellowship, the NIHR has provided the time and money to fully support her research, but Ms Lees does the rest, selecting the training she needs to do to progress.

She is studying at the University of Manchester and spends hours reading, researching, writing and forging valuable connections. The PhD means she must carry out a research skills needs analysis to plan her research training and be overseen by an excellent supervision team.

Ms Lees’ advice to anyone thinking of going into research is to be absolutely sure you want to pursue this career

Ms Lees’ advice to anyone thinking of going into research is to be absolutely sure you want to pursue this career as “it can be unforgiving, requires a lot of work and high standards but often yields just small results”.

“It’s not changing the world,” she says. “It’s just a little change here and there.”

Given the pressures of work in a setting such as acute medicine, it is very difficult to establish research projects in clinical practice. However, since becoming a consultant nurse in 2002, Ms Lees has had 48 pieces of work published on subjects ranging from acute medicine, audit, service development, and discharge planning to education.

““Building the capacity and capability of the nursing workforce so it can participate in research is important to continue to develop the science underpinning our caring actions”

“Building the capacity and capability of the nursing workforce so it can participate in research is important to continue to develop the science underpinning our caring actions,” she says. “Building the evidence about why we do what we do is the only way to ensure robust progression in nursing.

“The NHS can be guilty of introducing changes without due regard to the evidence and impact on practice, Ms Lees adds. “This produces short-term ‘new’ changes that revert to ‘old’ practice if not fully embedded or supported through appropriate evidence.

“Research careers can only be promoted and developed if research leaders’ motivation and enthusiasm can be brought into practice settings,” she says.

“In times of smaller budgets, we must be imaginative in our approaches to developing research in practice settings; we need a strategy that makes it clear how research, the workforce and practice fit together. The opportunities to undertake research skills courses must be made available.”

Katherine Schulze

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