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This month’s Spotlight on our eLearning platform focuses on drug therapies. We speak to Prof Sarah Ryan, Professor of Rheumatology Nursing at Midlands Partnership Foundation NHS Trust, about her career and advice to other nurses thinking about a role in research.

Tell us about your early career?

I trained in the 1980s when the training for nurses wasn’t an academic qualification. Like many nurses of my generation, after training you did a year on a medical ward and then a year on a surgical ward.

I was keen to do a BSc in nursing studies, but at that time in Harrogate it was perceived that academia went with being a sister, not with a more junior role. Luckily, I managed to persuade the chief nursing officer it was a good idea, and then a junior nursing sister post came up in rheumatology.

Why did you choose rheumatology?

I really loved it because you use all your nursing skills. You support patients to come to terms with being diagnosed with a long-term chronic condition, there’s a lot of patient education and supporting people and their families to adjust.

How has your career developed?

In the 90s, I saw a post advertised for the first clinical nurse specialist in Stoke-on-Trent. There were three clear objectives; improve patient education programmes, develop self-medication on the ward, and build a nurse-led drug monitoring service. Because of the supportive nature and culture of the team at Haywood Hospital, I’ve spent the rest of my career there. First getting the nurse consultant role and then in 2019, having the opportunity to become the professor of rheumatology nursing.

What was it like being a consultant nurse?

The ethos behind the development of nurse consultants was that for progression, nurses had to go either into management or academia. However, it was important to keep nurses that have clinical skills embedded within practice. The great thing was it gave me 50% of my time on clinical activities and the other 50% was divided between research, education and service development. It was a real gift.

Tell us more about your research interests.

For me it’s patient education. My PhD was looking at what enables patients to cope with living with rheumatoid arthritis. That really demonstrated the facts about self-management, patient education, informing the patient and shared decision making.

What are you working on now?

My next piece of work is looking at how we can optimise the function and effectiveness of the helpline. Calls are increasing every week and colleagues contact me for advice about overwhelming demand. There are big things we need to do with the helpline to make it more efficient.

What’s your advice for nurses thinking about research?

You can’t develop research on your own. Find a champion, whether that’s a mentor or somebody who can support you. Quite often there are little pots of funding from patient organisations or local medical institutions who will fund small and well-defined projects. Surround yourself with like-minded people. There might be a group in the BSR or the Royal College of Nursing who you can talk to and collaborate with.

Many thanks to Prof Ryan for sharing her expertise. Log onto our eLearning platform now, where members can listen to a podcast with Prof Ryan exploring helping patients get the most out of treatment. There are webinars on drug treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and JIA, an update on the BSR pregnancy guideline and one of the submissions for our Best Practice Awards.