‘It’s not just a clipboard’: the role of an oncology research nurse
Ahead of World Cancer Day on 4th February, the CMFT oncology clinical research team explain their role, why conducting clinical research in cancer is so important, and answer typical questions posed to them by ward staff. On behalf of the team, Vicki Conroy (Senior Oncology Research Nurse) divulges all. You can also read a summary of the team’s successful session during January’s chemotherapy study day here.
What are your backgrounds?
We are from a range of backgrounds and expertise and all work extremely hard to deliver studies to patients.
We are a small team consisting of one band 7 senior research nurse, two full-time and one part-time band 6 research nurse, a research practitioner and two clinical trial administrators.
Most of the team have an oncology background. Vicki Conroy, our team leader, came to research after working as a scrub nurse. Claire and Rachael were previously Senior Oncology Nurses and Womba’s background is renal medicine with a Masters degree in clinical research. Karen is our research practitioner and her post is funded by a charitable grant from Myeloma UK. Her background is gynaecology research.
Our department would not exist without Lubica, Clinical Trials Co-ordinator and Louise, our Clinical Trials Assistant, who help to set up, cost and maintain the many site files for all our studies. If anyone has been into our office you will know what a huge job this is. Lubica’s background is genetics research and Louise is new to clinical research.
Is there a nurse-patient relationship? Isn’t research nursing about just inputting data?
The collection and recording of the data for research is extremely important, however this is not our main role. It’s not just a clipboard.
We are very patient facing, and the nurse-patient relationship is absolutely central. In fact, we have found that as clinical research nurses we get to know our patients extremely well. Our goal as a team is to have a clinical trial available to every patient, so we tend to meet patients very early on in their diagnosis and see them through to survivorship and long-term follow up.
We have the time to talk things through with patients and work closely with the medical team and specialist nurses to ensure the patient and their families are well informed about the treatment options that are available to them. What matters to them is taken on board and addressed and this is particularly important when patients are considering whether to take part in clinical research.
The qualities that make a good cancer research nurse include having the ability to build a rapport quickly with patients, excellent communication skills and the ability to translate complex clinical and scientific concepts into lay terms. It is also helpful to be able to embed yourself into any clinical situation and be incredibly organised to enable you to work alongside the patient’s clinical care. It’s all about making it as easy as possible for patients to take part in clinical research.
We also have and acquire many clinical skills to enable us to carry out study visits, such as venepuncture, cannulation, observations, ECGs, nursing assessments and even occasionally spirometery.
How are your roles funded?
We are NHS nurses and work to the NMC code of conduct. Some research nurses in the team are funded by commercial funds and others are by the National Institute for Health Research.
How do you trial new medicines?
All clinical trials are scrutinised at every step during set up. To be able to reach patients they must receive legal and ethical approval. Approval must be gained by an ethics committee, MRHA and the Trust’s Research and Development department. Also, when accepting a study the team then assesses trial feasibility to ensure it is safe to deliver.
It would not be ethical to use a placebo as a treatment option in ill patients. Therefore many of the randomisations in clinical trials are between standard treatment vs experimental treatment. For drugs that are blinded, which means we do not know if the patient is taking the drug or not, the trial may involve standard care then plus or minus a blinded treatment.
As a study progresses the safety of the trial is continuously monitored. We report side effects and serious toxicities in real time so any concerns can be quickly escalated nationally. We also have regular visits from external trial personnel to ensure that everything is running smoothly.
Why would a patient go onto a trial?
When a patient is diagnosed with cancer it is hard to imagine what they are going through. Since becoming cancer research nurses, we have found it incredibly inspirational how much patients are willing to take part in trials when they have so much else to contend with. The talk we gave to the chemotherapy nurses highlighted that clinical research in cancer care is not just about finding that magic bullet. Although that would be ideal it is not always possible. It is also about how much patients want to give back, about inspiring a sense of hope and moving treatments forward to improve quality of life post-treatment.
If a patient has a question about trials can we contact you?
The office is staffed every weekday between 8am-5pm and can be reached by calling 0161 276 4178. We also have a generic email account Research.AdultOncology@cmft.nhs.uk
If you would like to increase your knowledge about research nursing and our trial portfolio we have been giving teaching sessions in the Haematology department and we would also welcome anyone who would like to come and spend a bit of time with us to see exactly what we do.