A conversation with Cody Leisegang of Global Research Nurses in South Africa

Posted on by Kelly Gleason in Collaborative Network, Professional Development

Global Research Nurses Network is an organisation dedicated to supporting research nurses. Their aim is to provide the individual user with guidance, information and peer support needed to conduct their role and enhance their career as a nurse working in research (we are kindred spirits).

The organisation is part of the Global Health Network, an online science park that allows researchers to work together without geographical, institutional or financial barriers.

Their vision is that ‘all research nurses will have free access to resources and support online and through regional networking. Research Nurses will be encouraged to make their voices heard and will form a network to share their achievements, challenges and ideas. The Mission of Global Research Nurses’ network ‘to provide resources and support for nurses with an interest in research.’

Many of their members work in challenging environments in low to middle income countries with little infrastructure to support research.   This organisation, very simply, does amazing things for researchers and health all over our beautiful planet.

The Global Research Nurses Network will have a stand at the Clinfield conference, Building Careers in Clinical Research, on November 17th in London. We hope you will come and have a chat with them and learn how you could get involved by becoming a ‘buddy’ for a research nurse in a low to middle income country and sharing the wealth of knowledge and resources we are so fortunate to have here in the UK.

Recently Cody interviewed me for a piece they are working on in their organisation but we hope to learn more about the Global Research Nurses Network over the next year on the blog and at this year’s conference in November.

Cody:  Why did you choose nursing?

Kelly: I think I chose nursing because I liked science, especially the sciences that looked at how the body and mind work when they work well.  I was quite good at mathematics and science, but my focus and my love was always people, and as cells or bacteria in Petri dishes cannot tell you how they feel, I knew I needed to work with people, so I chose to use my love of science and health to study nursing.

Cody: We see that in 1999, you decided to do a master’s degree in nutrition, what prompted you to make this decision? Did you study full-time or part-time?

Kelly: I chose to study nutrition because of my love of health and wellness. I understand how food and lifestyle choices can help people take good care of themselves – their bodies and their minds. I wanted to work in health promotion and disease prevention.

I chose to study at King’s because their programme focused on developed and developing countries, and I wanted the option to work abroad.  I studied full-time. Before I came to the UK to study, I was living in California, working two jobs and studying part-time to prepare for the masters.  I saved my pennies and took 12 months off full-time work to complete my master’s degree in London, and I worked part-time during that time at the Portland Hospital in London.

Cody: King’s College London is a very prestigious school, what did you find most challenging about the course?

Kelly: I love learning, and I love nutrition so I did not find the material difficult to learn. I attended every single lecture, and when I was not in class, you could usually find me in the library. When you work hard to save money to study as a mature student (I was 33 when I started my masters), I think you try to take everything the opportunity has to offer. I worked many extra night shifts and spent a great deal of my personal time studying to get to King’s so I tried to learn everything I could while I was there.

I think what I found most difficult was understanding a different educational system.  I had studied at a Canadian university for four years while I did my nursing degree and I studied for two years part-time at the University of California in Los Angeles so I was familiar with a North-American style educational system so it took some adapting to the English system and how they test and score papers and exams.

Cody?:How did you get into research nursing?

Kelly: When I graduated from King’s, they asked me if I would be their research nurse. For three years I ran healthy volunteer trials in nutrition and taught nutrition at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing. It was hard to find my way in a new country and a new system. I started working in research because I was asked by my tutors at King’s; research was not my initial plan but I felt ready for the challenge.

After three years at King’s, I moved to Cambridge where I was offered a job as the lead nurse in cancer research. I had never worked in the NHS, and I had never worked in cancer, but I took my management experience and my research experience and applied it to this new area.  I learnt everything I could from my team about cancer and the various roles in the NHS, and it was during this time that I saw the enormous possibilities for nurses to develop professionally in research. It was then that I made the decision to champion this role. I wanted to do everything I could to promote and support those working in clinical research. I wanted to serve those who served through research; those who seemed not to be acknowledged for their efforts and talents by their peers and professional groups.

Cody: What do you feel are the biggest hurdles we as research nurses will need to overcome in the next five years?

Kelly: When I look back on some of my biggest challenges I see that it takes personal growth to overcome them.  When I started out as a nurse, I was afraid even to speak to a doctor. I was scared that if I said something or asked something they would be able to see that I knew nothing!  However, as I gained confidence in myself and my skills that changed and not only could I speak to doctors, but I could challenge them by initiating a discussion about a care plan or a doctor’s order.

When you step into research nursing, I think most people enjoy the autonomy of the roles.  They interact with various members of a research/care team in a different capacity.  The research nurse is often responsible to make the project happen, carry out or lead many of the duties involved in managing trials and studies from set-up (regulatory and operational), screening for eligible participants, consenting, treating, data and tissue collections as well as maintaining the site file.  To have this autonomy, I think one also requires leadership.  I think research nurses must develop a strong sense of leadership on a personal level.  This leadership could come in the form of speaking up when there is a lack of engagement by medical colleagues, building relationships with other departments and external stakeholders such as pharmaceutical companies, ensuring protocol adherence by more junior staff, training new staff, etc.

I think research nursing is now a well-established speciality in a field that just keeps growing.  Some people now develop their entire careers in the field of research when not that long ago, that was not possible. I think now that the field of research and the clinical research nurse role are established, it is time for research nurses to step into their personal leadership, to not be afraid to be to step forward and lead.  This does not mean they have to be responsible for everything but to use their knowledge, skills and individual talents to plan and manage studies, care for participants and hold others accountable to their responsibilities in the research process.

There is now a significant amount of experience and expertise in the field of research nursing, we have a great deal to offer and have a solid foundation to support our own professional development.

Cody: If you had one source of advice that you would give to a new clinical research nurse, what would that be?

Kelly: Oh, the newbies, I love the newbies. I would say, be kind to yourself while you learn about this new field.  It can feel quite daunting to arrive in a new role where everyone is speaking in acronyms that you do not understand and everything anyone asks you to do is new and unfamiliar.  You can question why you left your last role, where you felt like a competent professional!

Role transition takes time, so allow yourself to be the student, ask all the questions you can, learn all you can, this is not the time for you to have all the answers.  I think it takes 6 to 12 months to settle into research; it does depend on what you experience during that time.  Use this time to also learn new things about yourself.  Use this time to explore what things you like and what things you do not, it is all good information to help you better understand yourself, your unique gifts and how best you can use those to help others and be really happy in your work.

To read more about the Global Research Nurses Network.

To register for this year’s conference Building Careers in Clinical Research, November 17th at SOAS in London.

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