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Professor of nursing and cancer care Nora Kearney tells Leslie Gelling why families have had such a strong influence on her career and how a good mentor can make all the difference
Nora Kearney is professor of nursing and cancer care in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Dundee, Scotland, and visiting professor of cancer care at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Professor Kearney is one of the UK's leading researchers in cancer care.
When and why did you develop an interest in research?
I have always wanted to push the boundaries of my understanding and I was involved in medically led research throughout my work as a clinical nurse specialist. There is no stage in my career that I can say led me to research - but research has always been a major part of providing the best possible care to patients and their families.
Who has been most influential in your career as a nurse and as a researcher?
First and foremost, it has been patients and their families. As a cancer nurse you have an ongoing relationship with families and this drives you to want to make a difference. I have been fortunate to have some amazing mentors - from a ward sister in my first year of training to the professor of medical oncology at the cancer centre in Glasgow - who made it possible for me to access the MSc for medical oncology that led me to a role in academia.
Which of your published research do you think has been the most influential?
It is probably the papers reporting the work on the advanced symptom monitoring system (ASyMS). All the work carried out by myself and colleagues with this mobile phone based system has been well received and has had a positive impact on patient outcomes. This research started 14 years ago and it is now being used internationally, which is extremely rewarding.
Which of your achievements has given you the most satisfaction?
The opportunity to support colleagues to develop research that is driven by patient experience and embedded in clinical care.
What are the challenges for nurses and researchers in cancer care?
The evidence base for clinical care could be much improved and there is a relatively small number of nurses engaged in research. Research is still seen as something 'people in universities' do rather than being integral to clinical practice. In NHS Tayside and NHS Fife there is a real focus on changing that situation through a clinical academic career pathway which is one of the main reasons for moving to the University of Dundee. Like many other members of the cancer care research team that I lead at the University of Dundee, I have a clinical appointment as an honorary clinical professor and see this link as fundamental to a career in research.
Which research projects are you working on?
The continuing work on ASyMS has been applied to different aspects of health care provision over the past ten years - the most developed is ASyMS-C to support adult patients undergoing chemotherapy for breast or colorectal cancer. The others projects are:
ASyMS has been applied internationally with projects being conducted in Australia and New Zealand. Our current study for patients with breast and colorectal cancer has attracted funding of £1 million and is evaluating the implementation of ASyMS on a large scale across the UK.
The second area is addressing inequalities. Work started some time ago on the differences in survival from cancer in that if you are from a socially deprived area you are more likely to develop cancer and more likely to die from it. This has now grown into a large scale project moving beyond cancer.
I am working with the NHS, local authorities, a range of non-governmental organisations, voluntary organisations, the arts and music sector and business leaders across Dundee to address the significant inequalities that exist. Ask me again in a few years if we have been successful.
What tips would you give someone new to research in nursing?
Go for it. Find the best mentor you can and, most importantly, let patients and their families drive your research.
What do you think the future has in store for nursing and nursing research?
There is no such thing as nursing research. But there are nurses who do good research and the best work in multiprofessional teams to improve patient outcomes. If we can make improving the experiences of people affected by cancer as the primary outcome of our research then research in cancer care can make a significant difference to patient care and clinical practice.
Creating the evidence base for clinical care is essential to professional development for nurses; using this evidence is the responsibility of every nurse and will ensure that, as a profession, we continue to deliver the best possible care.
Nora Kearney is professor of nursing and cancer care, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Dundee
Editor's Interview | Nurse Researcher | April 2012 | Vol 19 Number 3