University of Brighton Alumni Association

Fiona Walker on placement at the Leeds Clinical Research Facility

Nursing Student Fiona Walker Receives Sally Adams Scholarship and Career-Changing Opportunity

Fiona Walker is a second year BSc(Hons) Adult Nursing student. She received the Sally Adams Scholarship, which helps student nurses fund a practice learning placement and she has just completed a four week placement at Leeds Clinical Research Facility. Here she tells us about her experience there and how it has fired her ambition to pursue a career in research nursing.

Why was it important for you to do the placement?  

Fiona Walker on placement at the Leeds Clinical Research Facility

I applied for the Sally Scholarship at the start of my second year on the BSc Adult Nursing degree. It was advertised as an opportunity to undertake a specialist placement within the UK which would give an experience not otherwise available within the local trust. I am interested in the idea of a career in cancer research nursing but the closest specialist centres to Brighton are in Southampton and London. Receiving the Sally Scholarship allowed me to seek a placement further afield through which I could see research nursing first hand and test whether this is an area that I’d like to pursue when I qualify.

What did you experience?

I spent four weeks working at the Leeds Clinical Research Facility (LCRF) – one of twelve centres in the UK that is part of the national network of Cancer Research UK Trial Centres. This facility runs both early phase (first in human) trials used to determine safe doses of innovative treatments and later stage trials that usually test the efficacy of new treatment protocols compared with exiting ‘standard of care’ pathways. The LCRF is based at the Leeds Cancer Centre and runs trials for both oncology (solid tumour) and haematology (blood related) cancers.

A huge number and variety of trials are run at the centre, some of which are curative while others aim to help cancer patients manage the side effects of their existing treatments. This is a database of all current cancer trials in the UK.

Recruitment of new participants is continuous so there is a steady flow of new patients being put forward for trials who have exhausted current treatment pathways. Potential trial participants all go through a screening process, usually taking around a month. This checks that they meet all the trial eligibility criteria before they can consent to take part and treatment can begin.

Trial participation can continue for months or even years depending on the patient’s response and the design of the trial. If the disease progresses, however, continuing in the trial often won’t be possible. Most patients say that they choose to participate in a trial out of a combination of altruism, hope and because they have a lack of other treatment options. Patients who participate in early phase trials where the goal is to establish the level at which a new regimen is effective without causing unmanageable side effects are particularly inspiring as they know that the chance that they will benefit individually is low.

What did you learn?

Leeds Cancer Centre with sun set reflected in windows

To undertake this placement, I was required to complete the National Institute for Health Research’s module in Good Clinical Practice (GCP). This sets out the legal and ethical framework for all health research and covers the protocols for collecting and maintaining the integrity of research findings. Being able to apply this learning in the Research Facility has helped me to embed this knowledge and see how it protects patients taking part in clinical studies as well as ensuring that the evidence collected is a robust basis for future decisions about new treatment protocols.

How will the placement influence your future learning and career?

I sought out this placement because I was interested in the idea of one day becoming a research nurse. Being able to work within a specialist team has given me insight into the different nursing roles, some of which are clinical and involve working very closely with patients, while others are much more back office and focussed on designing and implement trial protocols. I know that I will want a clinically focussed role and now understand much better where and how I might be able to pursue this in future.

What would you say to other students who are thinking of applying for funding to do a placement?

Go for it! Doing a placement in a different Trust in a new specialism is undoubtedly intimidating. My day one nerves were at least triple the usual level – new city, new hospital, new accommodation, new everything… It all felt more intimidating than usual. But I’ve had lots of support from Paula Deamer, the Senior Lecturer who supports the Sally Scholarship and doing things like attending Uni meetings via Teams and keeping in touch with family and friends via video calls has helped me to feel less isolated.  And the team in Leeds really couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming right from the first contact – my first email asking if they’d consider hosting a placement for me received a positive response within an hour! And they’ve been equally welcome in person from the minute I arrived.

I’ve learned a huge amount about a specialism that I couldn’t have experienced locally and now have more confidence in the knowledge and skills that I’ve learned so far. I can’t wait to qualify and crack on with my future career – hopefully in research nursing!

The Sally Adams Scholarship was set up in memory of a valued and much loved member of the nursing administration team at the University of Brighton. Due to Sally’s commitment to her role, and to those nursing students that she supported, Sally’s family generously funded a scholarship to honour her memory. To find out more about student funding opportunities and how your support can change the lives of Brighton students, visit our website here.

Impact of fundingLeeds Cancer CentreLeeds Clinical Research FacilitySally Adams Scholarshipspecialist placementstudent fundingstudent nurseUniversity of Brighton

Sally Colledge • February 10, 2023

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