ICTD Blog: Karen Connolly, Clinical Research Practitioner

On International Clinical Trials Day 2023, Karen Connolly, Clinical Research Practitioner shares her inspiring story of how she got into research and encourages others to do the same.

Karen Connolly, Clinical Research Practitioner

What inspired me to get into research?

I am a Clinical Research Practitioner in the REACCCT Team (Research in Emergency care Anaesthesia Critical care Cancer and Core Trials) at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), based in North Manchester General Hospital (NMGH).

I have worked in the NHS for eight years, initially as a Clinical Trials Administrator before becoming a Clinical Research Practitioner in 2019. My responsibilities are recruiting patients to participate in research, running trials and supporting a busy team of clinicians. I have worked on trials relating to breast cancer treatments, critical care and accident and emergency.

Prior to joining, I had not known research would become a passion. For many years I worked in retail management in London before travelling the world. I settled in Manchester 22 years ago and worked in management roles at the Department of Work and Pensions whilst my children were younger. I decided to focus on research following a chance conversation with another playground mum, who still works for the NHS. We were discussing my mother’s death from breast cancer, the trial she had taken part in and how I wanted to ‘give something back’ for all the support received. My friend suggested research would make best use of the experience and skills I had. Having made enquiries and started to develop an understanding of the field, I was thrilled to be offered a role in Oncology Research at NMGH in 2015.

Working in research

REACCCT’s work is really engaging and greatly varied. I can be talking with a recently discharged patient about a rehabilitation study, before immediately afterwards liaising with a consultant regarding one of their clinical trials. No two projects are the same, so we learn and adapt each day. I have to be organised, proactive and motivated; we are often asked to ‘run with something’ that is brand new, requires a quick turnaround and is potentially very exciting.

Most importantly, we need to have empathy. Patients we approach are often very ill and their families very worried. We want to offer every one of those patients the opportunity to benefit from the extra support available alongside their standard care when helping our studies, and to have a high-quality experience through the delivery of safe and effective research.

My proudest moments

My proudest moments during my research career have been:

  • Being part of team that won ‘Cancer Research Team of the Year’ at the 2017 Northern Care Alliance Staff Awards (before NMGH joined MFT).
  • Runner up in the ‘Research Team of the Year’ category at the Greater Manchester Clinical Research Awards in 2019.
  • Being deployed to the COVID-19 research team for 18 months during the pandemic and knowing that the trials we managed made a difference to many patients by helping them through difficult times.
  • Runner up at the Greater Manchester Health and Care Research Awards in 2022. We also gained the runners-up award for ‘Prioritising Wellbeing’ last year.
  • Recruiting more than 170 patients to a BRCA-Direct Breast Cancer study which looks into inherited gene changes (variants) that can cause breast cancer.

I enjoy building relationships with staff in other departments and talking with them and their patients about the research we are doing. I recently created an ‘Introduction to Research’ presentation with my brilliant manager, Tracey Hodgkiss, Research Nurse Manager. We have presented it to new intensive care unit nurses joining the department and we were invited to speak at Journal Meetings to more than fifteen A&E doctors and nurses, which led to the successful recruitment of new patients for a headache study.

I love being part of an amazing team and am grateful for the support received from the doctors, consultants, clinical research nurses, clinical research practitioners and clinical trial administrators across the trust and beyond.

International Clinical Trials Day 2023

International Clinical Trials Day commemorates the anniversary of the very first clinical trial which took place aboard a ship in 1747 by James Lind, who discovered that oranges and lemons cured scurvy. 

This day provides us with the opportunity to raise awareness of our clinical research across MFT and encourage others to be part of it. At NMGH, we are celebrating with a promotional stand within the hospital (in the corridor near the Gallery Restaurant) manned by our research team to provide information to staff, patients and visitors and make them aware of the research opportunities across the trust.

I would say to anyone thinking of participating in a research study to “please do”, and to anyone thinking of working in research to “go for it” because it might become their passion too!

How you can take part in research

For health and care research to help all of us, we need everyone to get involved.

Be one step closer to changing future treatments and care by registering your interest to take part in a wide range of health and social care research.

By creating your free health research account on the volunteer registry, you’ll then be matched to suitable research studies and sent information on how to take part.