Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences (NDS)
Tell us a bit about your role
I work as part of the Surgical Research Team (SRT). We facilitate surgical trials throughout the Division and the Trust by acting as the link between researchers and patients. In particular, I work with the Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) surgery team, currently being involved with seven projects within that field. These cover a broad spectrum of research from a novel interventional trial for pancreatic cancer patients to a national database for a rare liver condition. I am responsible for these projects from the initial idea for a project, through the set up and planning, recruiting patients and following them up right through until the close of the trial and the collation of data.
It was a fairly tortuous path to where I am now!
It was not so much that I loved science at school, but more that I was not good enough at anything else to pursue it. Woodwork was my absolute favourite, but despite a wonderful teacher I knew I was never going to be able to make a career out of it.
I ended up doing four A-levels in science and maths, which certainly piqued my interest for science but not enough to sway me from becoming a jockey, which is what I had set my heart on. I embarked on this career with huge enthusiasm and enjoyed it even more than I had hoped, but it was punctuated (frequently) with trips to the hospital. On average a jump jockey will fall one in ten rides, so if you are riding enough to make a living you are also spending as much time in the hospital as a junior doctor. The ground seems to get harder as you get older and I began to re-evaluate my career path.
I quite fancied being a doctor; the ones I came across always seemed to enjoy their role, which in hindsight may say more about trauma and orthopaedics as a specialty as opposed to medicine as a career, but I thought I would give it a go.
Luckily for me I already had the right A-levels, but demonstrating a startling lack of aptitude in the required admissions tests left my choices limited and had to move to Norfolk to begin my medical education.
I completed a year there and was feeling happy about this new path when I became very unwell and chose to move back to my home area.
I never made it back to Norfolk and passed the time by driving lorries across Europe and working as a veterinary nurse. As someone who has always preferred animals to people, working with sick animals was fairly miserable and I wondered about training as a human nurse.
It turned out that I could do this part time at Oxford Brookes, which was close enough to me and so I started on another path in my life.
I absolutely hated it. There was no science to speak of, masses of essays that were never going to equip me for actually looking after patients and the uniform was the same colour as a Smurf. I thought this was no time to do another half job as I had done previously and so kept my head down and kept going.
As there was no science on the course, I looked it out on all of the placements and with anyone who tolerated my questioning. Happily, this enabled the two parts of my degree that I was interested in. Firstly, was the dissertation for which I wrote a research proposal. Secondly was a three-month placement in neurosurgery, in theatres. It was here that I made some good friends in neuropathology and developed a real interest in that side of things, and as luck would have it there was a project just starting out to create a brain biobank. This was to be my first job as a nurse, and a research nurse at that. It was wonderful experience, but the project was moving a little slowly in those early days, and there was not a great deal for me to do.
As part of setting that project up, I had met with Jane Niederer, the lead research nurse for the Surgical Research Team (SRT), which is part of NDS.
She had a vacancy come up in her team and asked me if I would be interested.
Et voila! Here I am five years later working in a job that I didn’t know existed when I was training and a job that I hope will last as long as I do.
I love (nearly) everything about the role and honestly find that the more you put into it the more you get out of it, which suits me perfectly.
In my opinion, our role as research nurses spans the breadth of medical sciences and in doing so provides the link between pure science/academia and the people that make it happen.
My feeling is the Medical Sciences can be a little top heavy, with huge amount of ideas, plans, science, lab work and paper publishing, but without joining that up to the patients who, ultimately are the end point in terms of changing practice, then it can get stuck in the labs and not make it out into the world.
The nurses really are covering the entire spectrum of medical sciences by connecting inspiration to implementation.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
There are two types of people in the hospital: Those there to do a job and those there because they are unwell or they have a friend or family member who is unwell.
As someone who is there to a job, every day that I get to walk out of the hospital and go home is a good day to me. It is not anyone’s choice to be in hospital as a patient and it is so important to remember that. Without a doubt the most meaningful and crucial part of my work is to make these peoples’ day bearable. If I am honest, the research comes second to making someone smile or even laugh despite their situation. I feel that I have done what I set out to achieve when one of my patients says to me: ‘Thank you. You have really made a difference’. As a result, I seldom meet anyone not interested in our research!
Can you tell us about something you've done, contributed to that you're most proud of?
In honesty the thing that makes me the most proud is exactly the same as the most meaningful aspect of my work, and that is to support and help those in the hospital who are not well.
It means so much to me when I receive a card or an email from a patient who just says ‘you made a difference’.
I maintain contact with many of the patients long after the trials have finished, and sadly in some cases their families, if the patient has since died.
To be introduced to people by patients themselves as ‘this is Katy. She is our favourite person in the hospital’ is a very proud moment indeed.
I simply cannot lay claim to any other projects that I am proud of as everything in research happens because of teamwork. It takes so many people in so many different departments to make anything happen that as an individual you are somewhat insignificant!
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
I hope so very much that in a 100 years time the National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3Rs) will have achieved its purpose to the point where animals are not used in medical science research at all. There are of course many arguments across the breadth of this emotive subject and, as with most things, the truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle.
However, for any benefit it creates there is nothing to support the fact that it is a kind thing to do.
I strongly feel that that the Dalai Lama was not far off when he said: ‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.’