Voice of a student: ‘I’m not a research nurse… am I?’

07 February 2018

Louise Henderson 

PhD student and nurse lecturer at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and NHS Grampian


After studying for a master’s degree in nurse-led practice, I remember having a conversation with a very good friend, explaining that I felt that I ‘wasn’t a research nurse’. Little did I know!

During a period of reflection, after achieving my master’s and having recuperated from my climb to the top of ‘Dissertation Mountain’, I was able to examine my innermost feelings about research and why I felt I hadn’t enjoyed that element of my course. I had struggled to grasp the key concepts of the theory at the time; and the challenges of balancing work, home life, and parenting had proven difficult. I had dutifully resigned myself to the belief that, in fact, research just wasn’t one of my strengths. 

So I examined my drive and motivation for further study, revisiting why I felt it was important and what I had hoped to achieve. 

I came to the realisation that I had gone back to the books primarily to improve the service that I was delivering for my patients. I understood the relationship between policy and guidelines clearly, recognising that one must use these to help inform practice. This was an area I particularly enjoyed, translating policy into practice and achieving gold-standard care for patients. So how did research fit into the equation? 

Exactly how research fits with clinical practice was becoming clearer. Within practice, I had felt somewhat detached from research at times, understanding the importance of it but only on a superficial level. However, during this period of reflection, I began to realise that research is intrinsically linked to quality, safety and improvement. These were areas of my own practice that were of high importance: striving after improved care for patients on a daily basis with research underpinning my drive for improvement, knowledge, quality and understanding. 


Agent of change

As I explored the principles of research, I became increasingly interested in bridging the gulf that I had encountered between clinical practice and research. ‘Evidence to inform practice’ became a clear point of engagement in my day-to-day clinical work and from there, my passion and drive for research flourished. I actively sought diversity in my career, looking to nurture this.

In recent months, I have undertaken PhD study, combining my love of district nursing and research to understand the experiences of patients within primary care. 

This is something I would not have even comprehended when I first started reflecting on my study journey. However, my understanding of research has developed over time and I have become an agent of change, in many ways.

What I’ve learned about research

  • It provides evidence to inform practice – we are all ‘research nurses’ 
  • This understanding helps to bridge the gap between research, policy and clinical practice
  • It’s intrinsically linked to quality, safety and improvement.