As a naturally curious person who likes to ask questions, Leigh Boxall leaped at the chance to oversee a team of researchers in the NHS.
Tell us about your role in the NHS
Essentially I oversee a research team of around 70 members of staff. Our remit is to help deliver studies on the National Institute for Health Research portfolio. We are currently recruiting to over 200 studies across a wide variety of specialties and we enrol around 3,500 patients to new studies every year.
Most of the team are research nurses who work closely with the clinical team to identify and care for study participants. They spend time describing the study to patients and ensure a process of informed consent. They carry out physical and psychological assessments to collect outcome measure data, ensure that patients receive the allocated research intervention and asses for side effects.
The job is really varied; you might be in the emergency department in the morning assessing an unconscious patient and in the afternoon be conducting a dementia exercise class in the community.
Have you always wanted to be a researcher, and if so, why?
I’ve been interested in research ever since completing my physiotherapy degree at the University of East London. I remember asking about the evidence base for a treatment I was observing on placement and being told that I asked too many questions.
While working in the neuro-rehab team at the Royal Free Hospital I had the opportunity to support Dr Margaret Mayston investigate the effects of a Lycra sleeve on upper limb hemiparesis and witnessed the patient benefits of taking part in research. Not just the benefits of the treatment being tested, but the added input and care patients receive as part of the process.
When I got the opportunity to work in clinical trials full time, I jumped at the chance. Research fits with my personality traits: I’m inquisitive, methodical and love a checklist.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
Some of my work involves measuring our recruitment performance against national targets. It’s important that my team are aware of these targets and how they affect our funding from the Department of Health but I don’t want them to feel like sales people. Trying to get that balance between quality patient care and quantity of recruitment can be tricky.
And the most rewarding?
So much of the job is rewarding. We get to offer patients the chance to get the very latest treatment or to learn more about their condition. Sometimes the new treatments being tested prove to be effective and sometime they don’t, but we are always learning something new.
We’ve had so many examples of individual patients who have made fantastic improvements because of taking part in clinical research. One lady used to make an 80-mile round trip 3 times a week for plasma exchange treatment for atypical haemolytic uraemic syndrome (aHUS). She recently took part in a trial of new drug and has since seen a remarkable improvement in her kidney function; so much so she is now working full-time.
Are physios and other AHPs particularly suited to undertaking clinical research?
Absolutely. In my experience physiotherapists and allied health professionals (AHPs) have the high level of autonomy, clinical assessment skills and critical appraisal experience to make excellent research practitioners. While many of our studies are drug trials, the portfolio of therapy research is fast growing and more and more AHPs are getting involved.
You work in Devon. Are your friends envious?
Of course, it really is a wonderful part of the world to work in. I was a little nervous about leaving a big London teaching hospital to move to a more rural setting, but I’ve learnt that work is just as fast paced, dynamic and exciting here in Exeter. The bonus is that I can visit the beach for an ice cream on the way home!
- For more information about getting involved in research contact your local research and development office or the NIHR Clinical Research Network here. Leigh Boxhall is lead research practitioner for clinical trials, Royal Devon and Exeter NHS trust
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