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Research reflections.

Within this short reflection I describe a research internship programme made available through the North West Coast Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC). In considering the experience afforded to myself I hope to encourage other community practitioners to seek out such opportunities to broaden their professional knowledge and practice

IN 2014, I WAS GIVEN AN INCREDIBLE opportunity to complete a Lancashire Internship for Nurturing Research Capability and Skills (LINCS) Clinical Academic Research Internship. The aim of this internship programme was to build research capacity and capability by creating and supporting research opportunities for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (AHPs). This programme provided a one day per week backfilled secondment where I was able to carry out a small research project and attend research-based training workshops. Prior to this internship, I had studied academic research modules at post-graduate level but I felt I wanted to learn more about the real world implications of research and how research is conducted within the NHS.

Through the internship I studied the experiences of health visitors carrying out listening visits for women with perinatal mental illness. Although a wealth of knowledge exists around therapeutic relationship building and use of listening skills, health visitor-led listening visits are poorly defined in the literature and very little evidence exists to support their efficacy. As a health visitor with experience as a mental health nurse, I felt that this was an essential area of practice that I could contribute to through the research internship. I devised a questionnaire that was emailed to all health visitors in my Trust asking open and closed questions around the intervention of listening visits. I asked health visitors about training, confidence levels and staff support/ supervision. I also interviewed a small number of staff about their experiences.

During this time, I was able to engage with a number of processes that are essential when carrying out research within the NHS. With support from my local research and development team, I applied for NHS approval via The Integrated Research Application System (IRAS). I was also required to gain ethical approval from the host university and my local trust.


Following on from my experience as a LINCS research intern, I now aim to develop my research skills through a PhD programme. In order to strengthen my doctoral application, I have been successful in securing a further secondment via CLAHRC NWC whereby I am gaining user feedback to develop a doctoral research proposal. This will ensure that I tailor my research question to reflect the needs of service users. The CLAHRC NWC internships are designed to support individuals to undertake a small research project under the supervision of experienced researchers. Interns may choose their own research idea, but it must align with their organisation's priorities, focus on addressing health inequality and fit within at least one of the NIHR CLAHRC NWC themes.

This internship is offering me the opportunity to prepare an application for a doctoral fellowship where I hope to undertake a piece of research to further explore the role of health visitors in supporting women suffering from perinatal mental illness. In order develop my

research proposal, I feel it is imperative to gain the voice of the service user to ensure that my research methods are suitable for mothers who have experienced perinatal mental illness. I intend to run a discussion group with women from an existing perinatal mental health support group. The existing group is currently coordinated by the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service who have offered their support in inviting women to the discussion group. I have secured some funding to enable me to provide refreshments and thank you vouchers for the discussion group members. In order to develop my proposal, I would like to ask the women questions that will help me to decide upon the methods that I will use if my fellowship application is successful.


Having a supportive team and line manager has been vital to my continued involvement with research. As a health visitor, my caseload has to take priority and although I have tried to keep my research day on the same day each week to fit in with the needs of the team, there are times where flexibility is required in order to meet the needs of clients. Being highly organised is essential as there are numerous forms to be completed and deadlines to meet. I found there were some weeks where fitting everything into my one research day was a real challenge.


I have gained real life experience of research processes and have learned lots of valuable lessons along the way. I feel the support provided by experienced researchers and academics through the internship programmes has been extremely nurturing and has helped me to cultivate new skills and to feel more confident in my abilities. I now have experience and understanding of navigating research approval systems and the knowledge I have gained of data collection and analysis through hands on workshops has enabled me to put this into practice. As a result of my internship, I was nominated for a CPHVA Student of the Year Award and I was selected as a finalist; although I didn't win, it was such an honour to have been selected. All of these experiences have motivated me to build upon my skills as a researcher and to hopefully further my studies through a PhD programme. I now feel committed to enhancing the evidence base for health visiting practice in order to improve patient care. I am currently preparing a paper based upon my LINCS research findings that I hope to have published in the near future and I have also had the opportunity to publish a journal article about perinatal mental health (Cummings and Whittaker, 2014).

I have shared my research findings at; The North of England Health Visitor Celebration Event (iHV, Leeds, October 2014); with health visitor students (UCLAN, October 2014) and with other health professionals at a research presentation day (Preston, October 2014). Through these events, I have been able to further explore the themes of my research findings with other health visitors. I have enjoyed sharing my experiences as a researcher and have hopefully inspired other health visitors to get involved with research.

I would definitely recommend the internship experience to other health visitors as a means to evidencing the impact of our practice on public health outcomes for children and families. Interns have access to support from experienced researchers and academics who guide them through the research process. Health visitors who are interested in carrying out a research project can contact their local Trust's research and development team or access the National Institute for Health Research website http:// for details.

Emma Cummings, health visitor at Lancashire Care Foundation Trust and research intern with North West Coast Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC).

Contact: emma.cummings@


Cummings, E. Whittaker, K. (2014) Prevention and recovery: perinatal mental illness. Nursing in Practice. Health Visitor Supplement.
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Title Annotation:MEMBER FOCUS
Author:Cummings, Emma
Publication:Community Practitioner
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2015
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