Pioneering a career pathway for nurses: the benefits of combining clinical practice and academic roles

27 Aug 2021

Neurology Academy interviewed Annette Hand, the new Professor of Nursing across Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Northumbria University.

Prof Annette Hand

Professor of Nursing (clinical), Northumbria University

Nursing is often thought of as a distinctly practical, hands-on job role, and yet the insight and understanding that nurses gain of the lived reality of medical conditions is unlike any other. Annette Hand, the newly appointed Professor of Nursing across Northumbria University and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, explains why the unique experiences of those in nursing are not only compatible with an academic role, but can work synergistically to ensure research findings translate into practical and positive outcomes in people's lives.

Annette's nursing career has been one learned vocationally, and she specialised in Parkinson's after witnessing the transformative impact of an apomorphine challenge on a woman with Parkinson's under the care of Professor Richard Walker. Annette applied to join his team 24 years ago and has continued to work in Parkinson's nursing ever since.

Her academic career began from within nursing and was born out of that same desire to improve patient outcomes. She explains how recognising that there are inconsistencies in care across the UK, then working out why they exist and how to address them is very important to her. Her role in research has enabled her to seek answers to questions that come up in clinical practice, and to then use those answers to inform and improve her nursing care - which in turn provides a positive example to others.

'To do research which doesn't just sit in a box but has tangible outcomes in reality is really exciting.'

As an example, Annette noted her work looking at informal carer burden which was used to develop a Research Excellence Framework impact case study (REF2021). This has then influenced her own, and others' clinical practice, as well as impacting care at a national level via Parkinson's UK in their brand new 'Parkinson's Connect' service.

Annette also spoke about how this aspect of her research has translated into her personal practice, explaining that much of the changes needed around support to carers are less about top-down service change, and more about expanding the caring role of the nurse to include family carers within clinics.

'For me, it's about talking to carers in clinic, asking about their needs, their challenges, and encouraging discussions about advanced decisions, end of life preferences, the best care settings, even when it's hard. Making sure that these conversations with carers are included in notes and records is really important too.'

Annette's new role of Professor of Nursing is an equal split across clinical practice and academia. In the clinical setting, her role spans both the movement disorders department within neurology, and the medicine for the elderly department. The two departments have a good working relationship already, holding joint multi-disciplinary team meetings, and whilst Annette is still in the very early days of learning her role, she feels that spanning the two could be an opportunity to 'bring out the best in both.' Annette also feels privileged to be able to support the nursing posts across both teams: two well-established posts in neurology and a new post in elderly medicine.

'I've been working across boundaries in my roles for several years, across classroom teaching, research and practice - collaborative teamwork is the most important thing and it drives future improvements in care.'

There is no doubt that Annette is pioneering the way forward for other nurses to hold these sorts of roles, and she is keen to encourage others who wish to pursue both.

'You can have clinical practice and academic roles alongside each other as nurses - you don't have to choose one or the other. Doctors have had these sorts of roles for ages - it's time that nurses did too.'

However, she is also clear that there are currently very few roles like hers within nursing. Historically, nurses have had to choose whether to have an academic career through the universities, or a clinical career through the healthcare service. Whilst managing both simultaneously is possible, Annette is honest about the level of work it has required over the past years to pursue both, calling it 'a tough gig'. However, she is emphatic that it was completely worth every effort to see the positive impact that research can make to people's lives, and she is greatly encouraged by the support she now has through her new role to actively work in both fields to the benefit of people with Parkinson's and their families.

'The most exciting thing about this role is that it exists - to have two organisations committed to advancing nursing roles, to developing research opportunities and to demonstrate these career pathways is brilliant.'

Annette feels that, by receiving equal support and recognition from both the university and her Trust, she has a new depth of credibility alongside her many years' experience in both clinical and research fields, and that this will enable her to build relationships and further her ability to change lives in both arenas.

'I've achieved a lot in the past, and now, with this new opportunity and all the support it brings, I can't wait to see what can be accomplished.'

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'The things you can't get from the books'

Parkinson's Academy, our original and longest running Academy, houses 20 years of inspirational projects, resources, and evidence for improving outcomes for people with Parkinson's. Led by co-founder and educational director Dr Peter Fletcher, the Academy has a truly collegiate feel and prides itself on delivering 'the things you can't get from books' - a practical learning model which inspires all Neurology Academy courses.