Clinical Research Panel at Queens University Belfast, School of Nursing and Midwifery

April 7, 2023










On Tuesday afternoon a panel of delegates from the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network (NICRN) joined colleagues from the NI Clinical Research Facility (NICRF) and Leeds and Bradford Teaching Hospital to present to an audience of 250 first year nursing students at the Medical Biology Centre, Queens University Belfast (QUB).


The afternoon was organised by Julie Brown, (Lecturer QUB) an alumni of the clinical research network. The purpose of the panel was to highlight clinical research as an exciting career pathway of development for newly qualified nurses and midwives from the School of Nursing and Midwifery, QUB.









The first speaker, Sonia McKenna (Lead Nurse/Midwife) and Senior Staff Manager for the Clinical Research Network, presented on her career progression and her extensive clinical research experiences within the network. Sonia highlighted the NICRN’S aims and objectives and the role of a Clinical Research Nurse/ Midwife. Sonia spoke at length about the exemplary work of all her clinical team’s and the successes of particular trials including COVID-19 research studies and the huge benefits gained by patients across NI.












Sharon Carr (Lead Nurse) from the NI Clinical Research Facility  (NICRF) and fellow alumni of the NICRN presented on her broad experience in clinical research, pharmaceuticals and her current role as a Clinical Research Nurse. Sharon also talked about the exciting future of research in NI in particular the IREACH Health programme which will strengthen the important contribution that Northern Ireland has already made to local, UK and global research. It will bring together an infrastructure for clinical trials in Northern Ireland that will improve inclusivity and accessibility for patients. IREACH will have a flagship hub on the Lisburn Road, Belfast.











Joining the panel from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Karl Ward (Lead Nurse – Research Education) presented the audience with engaging infographics and videos highlighting that research is a continuum of healthcare improvement, vital to clinical practice and quality improvement. Victoria Drew (Haematology Lead Research Nurse, BIHR Bradford Royal Infirmary) focused on the role of a research nurse and the patient journey through a clinical trial. Victoria finished by saying, “Research is a varied role and should be a part of everyone’s nursing role. It is a great career to pursue.”













Next on the panel was Aisling O’Neill (Critical Care Research Nurse) for the NICRN. Aisling presented on her experience of working as a critical care research nurse during a global pandemic, the challenges she encountered such as PPE shortages and the ultimate rewards; 179 patients recruited in NI to REMAP-CAP, a study that changed standard Covid care in Critical Care. All of this contributed to Aisling and the rest of the RVH Critical Care team winning first prize at the Belfast trust Chairman’s Awards for their Covid-19 research in ICU changing care.


Aisling was joined by research participant, Mr Brendan Faye, who was admitted to the Mater Hospital with Covid-19 in April 2020. Mr Faye who was critically ill was transferred to the Nightingale hospital and ventilated for 16 days. The Critical Care Research Team identified him as a potential study participant and due to Aisling and the other NICRN critical care nurses, Mr Faye was consented and randomised to the REMAP-CAP trial. Mr Faye was emotional whilst recounting his experience but emphasised his gratitude for the care he received and how thankful he is to Aisling and the NICRN Critical Care team for enrolling him in a COVID-19 clinical research trial.











Professor Donna Fitzsimons, Head of School Nursing and Midwifery closed the panel. Prof Fitzsimons who is also the clinical lead for Cardiology for the NICRN amongst her many roles highlighted the importance of research to the nursing students present. Prof Fitzsimons detailed her extensive experience in research as a nurse and clinical academic and emphasised how research improves patient care and research nurses can be agents of change if they pursue a clinical research pathway.










The NICRN and QUB will continue to work together to develop a research module and placements for nursing students in Northern Ireland.

Written by Emma Byrne