My Path in Research

Ashfaque Talpur

I qualified as a registered nurse in 2003 at The School of Nursing, Aga Khan University Karachi Pakistan. Since then, I have worked as a registered nurse in different clinical specialities; neurology, spinal, geriatrics, orthopaedics, cardiology, and oncology to name a few across various learning environments; primary care, community, home care, and hospital settings. My first RN job was in Pakistan and then I moved to Scotland in 2004 and later to England when I joined the University of Sheffield as a part-time student for my MPH course in 2008 besides continuing to deliver my nursing service at the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

While many people joined research accidently, I was so sure, a research career is something I feel fit into. I had a curious mind. Even during my childhood, I wanted to know about everything, for example, why people behave or think in certain ways, why we die, and how can we live forever. I always had these weird types of questions roaming around in my head all the time. I had, however, just not a curious mind but a caring heart. I wanted to serve people and humanity.

When I completed school, I chose to study nursing because the field covers diverse and complex physical, social and structural systems of care and management. With the desire to learn more, I moved from place to place. I joined the University of Sheffield in 2008 to study master’s in public health (MPH). This course gave me a true sense of what real research skills and evidence-based knowledge look like.

After completing my MPH, I felt that I was ready to work in nursing research. However, due to short of positions in nursing research here in the UK, I failed to secure any space despite my repetitive efforts for over two-three years. Luckily, a PhD Scholarship was announced by the University of Sheffield in 2015 and I was successful in getting it.

PhD was an eye-opening learning as well as a challenge. As research was my passion, even when I enrolled as a PhD student, I was already working as a part-time researcher within my department. From this point today, I am still working in the field of research and continue to love it. I must acknowledge that there are multiple barriers for nurses, midwives and allied healthcare professionals (NMAHPs) despite their interest in research and these include, lack of funding, limited opportunities, unclear career/training pathways, and limited support from immediate management. When working as a registered nurse, for example, I still remember how reluctant my matron was to sign my funding application, which was external funding by a local charity, to attend a research conference. One of the main barriers, when I completed my PhD and started working as an early career researcher, was limited mentorship and support at the university. I think I would have benefited if I was paired with senior management to develop my skills such as writing for grant applications, writing research papers etc.

After completing my PhD, I received a grant from the Burdett Trust in Nursing to work on Loneliness and Social Isolation among Older People from Black and Asian Minority Ethnic groups. You don’t know the extent of the problem until you get yourself into it. This was my first learning. I used to assume, particularly being a Pakistani from Pakistan, loneliness is not part of the community. Just because I was born and brought up in Pakistan and had predominantly seen the collectivism, neighbourhood, and close kinship relations in our culture, loneliness and social isolation seemed alien issues to me. This project opened my eyes toward growing trends of loneliness and social isolation both within single as well as multigenerational households of BAME communities, particularly associated with modernism, scattered and distant families, individualism and changing family and lifestyles of UK-born children of older people from a Pakistani heritage.

Besides engaging with communities, I went further and secured another funding from the University of Sheffield to work on capacity building among members of local charities and communities involved in older people's care. This work resulted in developing a toolkit for addressing loneliness and social isolation among older BAME communities (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mFKPjEPtYANwFI1_6Tagl_bm6XaEP14D/view) and also empowering local stakeholders with knowledge and training. These findings and engagements with the community motivate me to continue working on this topic.

Another research topic that touched me most was nurses' unprecedented role during COVID. I was working as a part-time staff nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic. I can see fear, tears, stress, passion, anger, and all other emotions all over the place when nurses provide care to covid-19 and other patients during this time.

As a research associate in my other job, I was working with the Strategic Research Alliance (between RCN and the University of Sheffield) team about collecting data and write a report on the contribution of nurses during pandemics (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jocn.16203). We found some shocking and upsetting findings from the international literature on the ways nurses were treated in the hospital settings by patients and other colleagues, in the community by society and in the policy by governments. However, it was inspiring to read how nurses uplifted their profession during this challenging time and continued working above and beyond providing holistic care to their patients.

In my current role as a research fellow at the University of Sheffield and Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals (DBTH), I am finally working on something that I feel most important, Building research capacity among nurses and allied health care workers. As I mentioned above, I still see the gap between research and practice remains and the demand for evidence-based knowledge to improve patient outcomes and excel in nursing and health services. I am in the early stages of my work, but I am keen and positive about bringing a positive research culture to DBTH.

I would say do not feel daunted when you hear the word “Research”. We all are doing or involved in research in some way in our everyday life. Unfortunately, research is not extensively promoted for the workforce who belong to nonmedical disciplines, such as nurses, midwives and allied healthcare professionals. As a result, when we hear the word Research, we look for an exit door. In the last two decades, however, there has been policy initiatives in the UK to build research capacity among MNAHPs. There are many opportunities available, and you might notice a colleague of yours talking about them within your trust.

We must understand that research is important and integrated part of our independent and evidence based NMAHPs disciplines. It is also the main approach to promote our own discipline as well as service delivery or patient outcomes.

If you are thinking of adding research to your career, I would suggest it is important you ask yourself why you want to do it. Whether it is for professional development, broadening the knowledge in the field, patient outcomes, or healthcare setting’s profile/image. Because research is a diverse field and clarity is important to achieve your goals timely. Second, I would say don’t feel disappointed if your first attempt/step in the research field fails. The Word Re-Search is all about repetition and never giving up.

This blog was written by Ashfaque Talpur, Research Fellow within our Capacity Building theme at Yorkshire and Humber ARC, as part of the NIHR's 'Your Path in Research' campaign 2022.

14 November 2022