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Professor Corina Naughton, School of Nursing & Midwifery
What first attracted you to your academic discipline?
I qualified as a nurse through the traditional apprenticeship model whereby training was largely through clinical practice. When I qualified, there were very few academic roles, the focus was on clinical practice.
Initially I worked in Ireland for six months but there were limited opportunities, so I moved to London and then to Australia for 12 months. Once my travel bug was resolved (for a time), I returned to London and started to think more seriously about my career. I completed my studies in intensive care nursing and it was then that I became more interested in the science and research underpinning nurse practice and patient care.
Nursing had a tortuous transition into a graduate profession in Ireland and the UK. Gradually a critical voice was emerging in nursing: it was no longer a matter of 'doing' and following doctors' orders; there was an application of nurse-led evidence to practice, nursing interventions, and systematic measuring patient outcomes.
I worked for over 14 years as a clinical nurse, mainly in intensive care and high dependency roles and moved up the nursing grades. The biggest change came with my Masters in Epidemiology in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It was a fantastic programme and it really gave me a love of research. I knew I wanted to run my own research projects, but for this you needed a PhD to qualify for funding. It was a difficult decision to leave the clinical side of nursing and move into a full-time academic career, but once I completed my PhD, it became an obvious choice. Clinical academic roles in nursing are still precarious, unlike in medicine, nurses generally have to choose one over the other.
How were you drawn to your current research interests?
My research today focuses on the translation of evidence-based practice into care for older adults, especially during acute hospital admission. We know that older adults are at higher risk of experiencing a hospital associate decline (HAD) independent of underlying illness or co-morbidities. HAD is modifiable but it requires new models of nursing care and a supporting evidence base.
Throughout my career there was always an older adult sub-theme, but in Ireland there is very limited research funding for nursing, so there is a tendency to chase the money and it becomes difficult to build up a body of research in a specific field. In 2013, I took a post in the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, King's College London. This is when 'older adults' became my primary field of research. I have made a deliberate decision to focus on older adults as a population and avoid a disease model such as dementia or frailty. Ageing is a complex interaction between the physical, psychological, medical and social domains; nursing contributes across all these domains. Building the capacity, capability and sustainability of the nursing workforce with older adult competency is one of the significant challenges of the 21st Century.
What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?
In Ireland, I led the first National Prevalence Survey of Elder Abuse and Neglect in community dwelling older population (http://www.ncpop.ie/userfiles/file/Prevalence%20study%20summary%20report.pdf). It was the first survey of its kind in Ireland and has had a significant impact on policy and practice.
In terms of professional nursing roles, significant projects I was co-applicant on were the National Evaluation of Nurse and Midwife Prescribing for medical products and a similar Evaluation of Nurse Radiation Prescribing. Both reports and subsequent publications had a significant impact on establishing the safety of extended roles in nursing and midwifery and their significant contribution to patient care and service innovation.
In the UK, while in King's College London, my research focused on older adult workforce development. I was PI on two interventions projects; Education-career Pathway in Older Adult Nursing (still underway) and the Older Person's Fellowship.
Have you had professional role models? What impact did they have on you?
The first academic role model was probably my Nurse tutor during my initial nurse training. Sr. Madeline was a wonderful woman who had a tremendous love of learning. During our training, she started her own Masters in Physiology at Trinity College Dublin. It was the first time we even realised nurses could go to university.
My most important role models were many of my peers. Fantastic nurse researchers, who were not necessarily more senior but who were leading large research grants and delivering on a teaching and administration workload. Such people open the door for you, bring you in as a co-applicant and support you in writing the first major report.
What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?
My current post is split 50% with UCC and 50% with the South/South-western Hospital Group. The post is the first clinical professor in older person healthcare in the region. The role gives me a legitimacy to engage with Directors of Nursing and front-line staff to promote an older adult agenda in their services. At the same time, with the older adult team in UCC, we are looking at the curricula in both undergraduate and postgraduate progammes, revising it to better meet the needs of front line services. I like the synergy between the two roles, but there is also double the workload.
Engaging with older people in the services and the staff who care for them is the best part of the role. But reconciling the tensions arising from disconnected and fragmented service response and theoretical models of care is the challenge.
Academic careers present specific challenges in achieving balance, whether between research, teaching and administration, or in work/life balance. What advice might you give a student/younger colleague/your 18-year old self?
Nursing offers a tremendous range of opportunities, more so now than in the past. As an 18-year old, I would say don't be in too much of a rush to get to the top, you have over 50 years of a career in nursing ahead of you.
I think it is important that nurses gain clinical experience and don't rush into academia because they like the hours and weekends off. If you are going down an academic route, plan as to how you are going to maintain clinical credibility; in your early career you will have a large teaching workload, you need to keep up-to-date in what is new and emerging in your field of nursing. Research-only contracts in nursing do not exist, except as short-term, project-specific roles.
Do your Masters and PhD early in your career so you get the full benefit. I know the universities like to keep everything in-house but, if you can, get experience in other universities. Universities often recruit staff for the diversity of their expediences to bring new ideas and influences.
Plan to work in other high-ranked, ideally overseas universities. It won't be easy but the exposure to different systems and, most of all, ideas and thinking will always stand to you. It will also extend your network of collaborators.