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Thought-provoking perspectives of becoming a clinical research nurse from South Africa and the United Kingdom


South Africa

Why I chose to become a clinical research nurse:

I will not go so far as to say I chose, but I would say I was chosen…

I decided to follow a career in nursing instead of one in radiography because, as I debated with myself at the age of 18 years, “I will have more opportunity to be promoted” (these days called career advancement or some other fancy term). I started college in 1995 very excited, wide-eyed and innocent. That lasted for as long as it took me to be placed in the hospital. I spent the next four years nursing sore feet, a sore back and a sore mental state: “What did I get myself into?”

Like all good things it came to an end, my life as a student nurse, and a new journey awaited. It took me the first month in my new position to realise that accountability and responsibility rested securely on my shoulders (new epaulettes that is!).  It was madness, I thought, I was only 24 years of age. But the truth was, every single person who enters the ward will ask “Where is the Sister?” or “May I speak to the Sister". They do not distinguish between junior or senior. No, when they see those maroon epaulettes they zone right into your orbit.

Over the next six years, I entered into a love-hate relationship with those epaulettes. The symbols that at one time (very long ago) represented my pride, my achievements and my maturity, started to represent something very different.

I worked 12-hour shifts in a general medical ward, 40 hours a week. I was expected to complete a range of tasks from mixing/calculating/administrating medication, to teaching/training students and staff. I dealt with the shortage of staff issues, patients that absconded from the ward, incidents from bed falls to bedsores. Each required me to complete a particular set of documents: writing in the nursing notes, completing an event form, reporting to the matron, etc. No one day ever had enough hours to complete the workload. It was just one continuing conundrum of events. The saddest part was always when someone died. When this happens, it just pulls at your soul and makes you reflect: "Am I not too young to deal with life and death as a constant?".

Yes, I broke down and cried on more than one occasion….

It took me a while to decide that: “Yes I am too young (31) to be working these long hours, telling family members to come to the hospital immediately because the health of their loved one has deteriorated. Being part of a system or a culture where personal growth are viewed with jealousy and where hard work is very rarely rewarded. I developed a sense of cynicism instead of optimism.

I made a change in the middle of completing my B-tech degree (2-year program), where I was paying for a mortgage bond and working towards a steady pension pay-out. I left the services of the government and accepted a job as a research nurse.

At first, it was so different; it was a different kind of pressure; I only worked 7.5 hours per day. What is this? Going home while it’s still daylight? It was a foreign concept to me. My job at that time only required me to take blood and keep track of where it was stored. I got a slight pay rise, but it was not expected of me to multitask, work long hours, work night duty. I had ample time to study and complete assignments. Best of all at that point, I had internet access!

All my colleagues had tasks/jobs, and they did it. I am not saying we did not have conflict; I am saying it was on such a small scale that it does not need mentioning.

I did feel lost and without a purpose for a long time. Remember my previous work-life was chaotic, pressurised and at times dealing with feelings of failure. Now my greatest challenge was to find a vein, obtain the required samples of blood, causing the least bit of discomfort. At that time I don’t think my brain had the ability to comprehend the change.

I did find my balance, and it gave me a sense of purpose and direction. I started to appreciate my use within this new environment. My brain could comprehend that even though the chaos was no more, the pressure had shifted/changed, and the feelings of failure are different now. I had a purpose, I had a goal, and I could offer a valuable contribution.

It is not the easiest environment to work in, to work within research certainly is not for the faint-hearted or sensitive. There is not a monetary benefit, but I do have a sense of belonging and value. I can maintain a balance between my reasons for becoming a nurse (besides the promotion part), providing care to patients and upskilling myself to new levels.

I had been taken out of my comfort zone and put in a new environment. It has been an adjustment, but it is where I want to be. I have arrived at a place where I have a voice, not dominant but I am heard. It is a journey that has led me in a different direction.

I have grown from a scared research nurse to coordinating a study. I have aided researchers in the setup of their data collection phase of their project. I have grown into facilitating the training for field staff and coordinators.

I am embarking on my biggest challenge to date, coordinating a multi-centre study. At the same time, I am both nervous, anxious, excited and proud.


I will state this “I have been lucky…”


United Kingdom

Why I chose to become a clinical research nurse:

I had been a nurse for 12 years, with a lot of experience, when I made the decision to move into clinical research nursing. I have worked in general medical, general surgery, eye surgery, orthopaedics and trauma, high dependency unit, neurosurgery and cardiothoracic intensive care. I also worked and studied in two countries where the nurses’ education, health policies, culture and behaviours towards health are the polar opposite.

My journey into clinical research nursing began in May of 2013 while I was working as an Intensive Care Nurse. I began to suffer from severe dermatitis in my both hands, which caused me to stay on sick leave for several weeks. Within that year  I had to undergo a series of tests, despite special gloves, treatment and shorter shifts the Dermatitis kept returning.  Eventually, I was unable to work in intensive care, in a job that I loved, due to open wounds on my hands.  It was during this time that a friend of mine suggested a change of direction and looking at a career in research nursing. 

At first, I was very sceptical about it: in the UK most research nursing jobs are advertised as fixed-term positions, and my job in intensive care was permanent. I also questioned whether I had the right transferable skills mix to become a research nurse.  However, with my extensive experience and the fact that I have always enjoyed a challenge and the added benefit of being able to expand my skills and knowledge I decided to explore a possible career in clinical research nursing. This was three years ago; the journey has not always been smooth, but I have not looked back since!

What was your route into clinical nursing like?

What made you want to become a clinical research nurse?

What influenced your decision?


Clinical trials  Nurses