Suriya is a Senior Cancer Research Nurse for the Hematology team at North Bristol NHS Trust. As well as managing research studies, she is undertaking a PhD to improve lung patients’ quality-of-life to support them to live better for longer. Suriya explains how she enjoys the variety that her clinical and academic roles offer.
What is your role look like day-to-day?
My primary role is to line manage a very small team of research delivery staff. I am also involved in direct patient care and help to identify suitable research studies for patients. We are part of the wider clinical team which is the Clinical Haematology Team and we carry out research primarily in Blood Cancers but also in other Blood Disorders.
What types of patients do you see?
The sorts of patients we see might have Blood Cancers like Multiple Myeloma, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia, Lymphoma, or they might have some bleeding disorder.
How did you begin your career in research?
Alongside my nurse training, I also did a degree in Psychology. I explored the option of developing a career in Psychology and I realised I wanted to be a Clinical Psychologist. The first University that I applied to do the Clinical Psychology training came back to me saying that I didn't have any real research experience.
At that time, I was working as a Registered Nurse and I couldn't fathom how on earth was I going to get research experience. I parked the idea and continued working in my clinical role as a Nurse until one day a Senior Cancer Nurse approached me. She recognised some of the skills that I probably didn't notice I had like good attention to detail, meticulous record keeping and that desire to really understand what's going on in the whole patient’s pathway.
A new opportunity arose for a Research Nurse role in Cancer and she suggested I speak with the Lead Cancer Nurse….And then it goes on from there, I applied for the job and I was successful and 15 years later continue to work in a more senior role that directly impacts the outcomes for people living with cancer .
What excites you about working in research?
Working in research is exciting for people like me with a clinical background as it gives me the opportunity to work closely with patients, develop my academic and research skills whilst getting to understand the diseases in a lot more detail. I get to be exposed to all the current and potential treatments on the horizon and use all this information to work closely with other Healthcare Professionals in the area to really improve the quality of care that we deliver in our hospital.
Can you tell us about the most interesting research study that you've been involved with?
There have been so many interesting research studies during my 15 years in research and I have seen how treatments in cancer have changed drastically during this time. However, the study that really stands out to me is a study that I was working on with a Urology Consultant back in 2010/2011, called the Bolero study. This was the first time we were exposed to robotic surgery here at Southmead Hospital. It was fascinating, it was like something out of a science fiction movie. We were looking at whether you do a full cystectomy, open cystectomy or robotic or laparoscopic cystectomy for patients with Bladder Cancer.
More recently, I've been involved in a Blood Cancer study called the Fitness Trial. This is a really refreshing study to work on because it is based on Multiple Myeloma, and is looking at Frailty adaptive treatment for elderly patients who have been newly diagnosed with myeloma who are not suitable for stem cell transplants. What is lovely about the study is we're not only focusing on what are the best treatments but we're also looking at patients’ quality of life. We're balancing both elements and I think that is a fantastic thing moving forward.
Do you feel like you're making an impact with your research?
I feel we're making a real impact to patients by doing our research. We're making novel treatments accessible to patients here at NBT. We're increasing the expertise of the Clinical Team and developing more experience of these drugs and how to best support these patients. We’re also gaining first-hand knowledge of some of the side effects and considerations.
What are your next steps in your research career?
I've enjoyed and I continue to enjoy working as a Research Nurse but alongside this I'm developing my research skills through my PhD. Over the next two years, I'll be progressing my work which looks at developing a mobile app for lung cancer patients. In the future I’d like continue to progress Cancer Research by looking specifically at how best to deliver treatment and care for patients with cancer to support them to live better for longer.
What do you enjoy about working at NBT?
I love working at NBT because it's an inclusive environment to work in I've had a lot of support over the years. When my kids were younger, I've had flexible working hours. More recently I've had a lot of investment with regards to developing both my clinical and research skills and I don't think I would have progressed to a PhD without the ongoing support that I received whilst working at NBT.
What advice would you give someone who's considering a role in research?
I suggest if you're interested in a career in Research, to have a look at the different roles within Research and match these against your personal interests and your professional aspirations. Discover whether you enjoy working in an office setting, whether you enjoy seeing patients/clinical participants or whether you like a bit of both.
There are various opportunities within Research, there's Research Administrative roles, Research Practitioner roles, Research Nurse roles and opportunities to develop as a Clinical Academic. It's just a matter of matching what it is you're most interested in - there's always something in research for you.