Your Path in Research: Vicki Conroy – Nurse Manager of the Haematology Oncology Research Team

As part of the NIHR Your Path in Research campaign – which supports health care professionals to get more involved in research – we are shining a light on Vicki Conroy, Nurse Manager of the Haematology Oncology Research Team at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI).

Vicki has been involved in work to advance blood cancer research for more than 10 years and has been named the winner of the Research and Innovation Year of Nurse & Midwife 2020 within Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT).

Around 16,000 people in Greater Manchester are diagnosed with cancer every year, and the Haematology Oncology Research Team at the MRI provides comprehensive referral services for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of blood diseases, immunotherapy and stem cell transplantation.

But what was Vicki’s path to research? What are her favourite aspects of working in research and how does collaborative working offer the best outcomes for patients at the MRI?

Vicki’s path to research

Originally from Birmingham, Vicki completed her nursing diploma in Sheffield and started her career on a colorectal surgery ward, treating bowel disorders, before undertaking a degree in nursing practice. After moving to Manchester to raise her family 15 years ago, Vicki started working at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, where she developed a passion for working within oncology – a branch of medicine that deals with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

I wanted to work in the field of cancer and saw a job advertised for a Clinical Research Nurse (CRN) in the Haematology Oncology Research Team at the MRI.”

“I knew this was something I had to go for and I’m so glad I did. The role of the CRN is so diverse, it’s not just recruiting patients, it also involves training and mentoring staff and providing leadership in sometimes challenging situations.

Every day is different, and there are many opportunities to learn, but you do have to be able to manage your own time, prioritise and pay attention to detail.”

Vicki’s favourite aspects of research

I love my job and I’m extremely proud to be a Nurse Manager and a member of the great team I work with. Research has been a very rewarding career pathway and I feel privileged to be a part of the patient-centred trials we lead.

My philosophy is, ‘treat the patient, not the condition’, and my favourite aspect of working in clinical research is being able to offer patients the opportunity to access new treatments.

A lot of our patients are participating in research because they hope it will benefit future patients. Many will say that they don’t know if their treatment will work, but are taking part with a desire to help others and contribute to cutting-edge research and the progression of medical knowledge.”

The most exciting developments

During the past 10 years it has been exciting to see our team grow and now recruit more than 600 patients across all phases of clinical trials, from early or experimental to late phase trials.”

Vicki is proud of her team’s strong track record of recruiting patients to take part in research and their commitment to improving patient outcomes, this in part led to the MRI being awarded IMPACT status. IMPACT is the UK’s first ever clinical trials transplant network and the MRI is one of only 10 UK centres to receive this accolade.

The team has also received investment through iMATCH – one of only three successful INNOVATE UK bids – a multi-million pound government award to ensure more patients benefit from a new generation of disease-fighting drugs for cancer and non-cancer illnesses.

As a centre of excellence, we have been a member of the Myeloma Research Alliance for many years and have been able to offer our patients access to new treatments as a result.”

Vicki and the Haematology Oncology Research Team

Vicki and the Haematology Oncology Research Team

From bench to bedside: CAR-T

CAR-T is a revolutionary new type of treatment that reprogrammes patients’ own immune system cells to target their cancer.

The MRI was one of the first centres in the UK to offer this treatment to young adults with leukaemia.

We have been able introduce CAR-T therapies into routine clinical care by working closely with the clinical teams and providing training on safe administration of treatment by adhering to protocols and procedures. 

CAR-T therapies are the pinnacle of personalised health care as treatments are developed for each individual patient.”

Collaborative working

Vicki believes in the importance of having the support of non-research clinical colleagues to help provide the highest quality care and treatment to research patients at MRI.

We have a great working relationship with our clinical colleagues and have developed a collaborative approach to patient care. By embedding our clinical research nurses alongside clinical nurses, we have improved communication and multi-disciplinary team working for the benefit of our patients.

We attend monthly clinical team meetings to discuss study objectives and deliver training on research protocols and procedures. This has been especially useful for CAR-T studies, and has enabled us to align our processes so that each treatment stage runs smoothly.”

Why Vicki chose a path to research

I follow a patient closely through clinical care to their aftercare and it is heart-warming when I see patients in follow-up, months, sometimes years after taking part in trials, and they tell me about the positive difference the care, that I and my team provide, has had on their lives.

I am thankful every day that I chose a path in research and would recommend colleagues in clinical roles to consider it and find out more.”

Find out more about the NIHR Your Path in Research campaign