Your Path in Research: A research midwife’s career journey

Catherine Chmiel

Author: Catherine Chmiel

R&I Matron and Research Midwife

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Catherine Chmiel has been a research midwife for more than a decade. She is passionate about her profession and has played a key role in driving forward research projects during her career at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT).

For the past four years she has served as the Trust’s Research Midwife Coordinator and, more recently, became a national NIHR Champion for reproductive health and childbirth.

A photo of Catherine Chmiel

Catherine Chmiel

Not only that, Catherine is among a select group of five MFT health professionals accepted on to the NIHR’s three-year 70@70 scheme – a senior nurse and midwife research leadership programme for clinical leaders with a record of developing existing practice.

Her week is split between her 70@70 commitments – two days – and her new role as MFT’s Clinical Research Nurse Manager and Midwife, within MFT’s Research and Innovation team.

As part of the NIHR’s Your Path in Research campaign, Catherine explains why she was inspired to work in research, and what she hopes to achieve in her new position.

Catherine said: “When I first qualified as a clinical midwife in February 2002, I worked as a rotational midwife in labour, antenatal and postnatal care.

“I’d never really thought about working in research when I was training to be a midwife, however while working at another trust, I was involved in a case where a woman sadly died as a result of pre-eclampsia. That incident really affected me emotionally and instilled a passion to make a bigger impact on the care that women with pre-eclampsia receive.  It underlined my belief that how we manage pre-eclampsia is crucial to reducing the number of mums and babies to this condition.

“In January 2009, it felt quite fateful that a midwifery role came up in research at this Trust, which is now MFT. The role was specifically focused on pre-eclampsia and I knew I had to go for it. I felt I needed to make a bigger change and the way I knew I could do that on a wider scale was by working in research to try and find new ways of caring for women and families affected by the condition.

“I was appointed to the role, and I helped to set up the Manchester Antenatal Vascular Services (MAViS) clinic at Saint Mary’s Hospital (SMH) in 2012. MAViS is a clinic for women at high risk of developing pre-eclampsia in pregnancy due to existing maternal conditions, such as hypertension. It was privilege to work with Dr Jenny Myers, Consultant Obstetrician, NIHR Clinician Scientist and Senior Lecturer at The University of Manchester. It was just the two of us at the beginning, but it has been amazing to be part of MAViS’ growth, not only in terms of women recruited to research, but also the expertise and knowledge of the research professionals involved.

I am so proud that the team has now recruited more than 1,100 women onto studies, with the overall aim of improving outcomes for the women and families we care for.

“Through working in research I have seen, and been part of, improvements that have translated into care right here in Manchester. The NIHR-funded PARROT trial is a great example of this. At SMH we were one of the biggest recruiting centres and, on the back of that trial, we got the ‘placental growth factor’ (PlGF) blood test introduced into practice. That’s a simple blood test that can help us make important decisions about the care of a patient. It is going to be used at the SMH Managed Clinical Service across both MFT sites for a year, with a view to it continuing on a long-term basis.

That has to be my proudest achievement, and has had the best impact on practice, as we can diagnose women more effectively and manage their care better as a result. To do this alongside Dr Myers has been fantastic, as she has and continues to be a great role model to me in research.

“I only felt comfortable leaving that role and stepping into my new position knowing I had achieved a positive impact on the clinical care women with pre-eclampsia receive. When I was the research midwife coordinator, I identified very quickly that I was quite a natural at managing and motivating people. That is why I have moved into operational management, as a Clinical Research Nurse Manager and Midwife, rather than going on to do my own research. I want to lead people well, so they will go on and deliver good research.

“I am really passionate about raising the profile of research from a delivery perspective, as well as a Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions (NMAHP) perspective. I have a vision as to how I would like to use my new role to make an impact and facilitate people’s initiation into a research career.

I want to support staff to have those initial conversations and to develop the thought process of, ‘I want to go on and have a career in research’.

“From a research delivery point of view, I also want to improve the way we promote and circulate findings in the clinical environment. We do our work so well, but I believe we can improve the way we share our findings, and I think disseminating those results that will give nurses and midwives the food for thought to get involved.

“For anyone considering a career in research, the most important thing for me is to never lose sight of the impact on patients, service users and their families. It’s all about them. For me, I never wanted to see another woman die as a direct result of a pregnancy-related condition. I knew I was never going to stop that happening, but I asked myself: “What’s the best way for me to have a positive impact on these families?” And for me, research was the answer, because I felt I could be part of the bigger picture. I wouldn’t want to do anything else now.

For information about how you can follow a career in research, click here to read about the NIHR’s “Your Path in Research” campaign.