Exploration of the concept of clinical academic careers in general practice nursing

Health professionals involved in academia are essential, but understaffed. This project aims to unravel why such a vital role has such a low uptake. 

An academic clinician looking over a report


Research background

Clinical academics in nursing, midwifery and allied health professions – or non-medical clinical academics – are health professionals who are engaged concurrently in clinical practice and academia (Council of Deans of Health, 2013). Despite the generally agreed consensus that these roles are essential for high quality evidence-based care, the availability and uptake amongst nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals is reportedly limited (Carrick-Sen et al., 2016), with non-medical clinical academics comprising less than 0.1% of the workforce compared with 4.6% of the medical workforce (Baltruks and Callaghan, 2018; Medical Schools Council year).

The ten-point action plan for the general practice nursing workforce published by NHS England (2016) reported an intention to increase access to clinical academic careers for general practice nurses (GPNs) (NHS England, 2018).  However, based on the low uptake of such roles across other specialities, there is a need to understand the barriers and enabling factors that will impact upon this initiative.

Research aims

The project aimed to explore the concept of clinical academic careers for GPNs through investigation of the barriers and enablers related to the development and functionality of the role, along with the associated potential benefits for general practice.

How was the research carried out?

This study employed a parallel convergent mixed-methods design (Creswell and Plano Clark, 2010). Underpinned by the findings of a rapid evidence assessment (REA), two quantitative surveys were developed (one for GPs and one for GPNs), along with qualitative interviews and focus groups with GPs and GPNs at varying stages of their careers. Data collected for each element were analysed and reported separately, followed by a process of synthesis to compare, contrast and discuss the findings.

Research outcomes

Many of the issues facing nurses and other allied health professionals pursuing a clinical academic career also apply to GPNs. However, there are some specific issues, which challenge nurses already working and established in a GP setting. These include the solitary nature of GPN work, the absence of research skills being embedded in education and training for the role of a GPN and the inherent lack of access to CPD.

In addition, the impact of working within relatively small teams and organisations and expectation that any education and training will be focused on clinical skills that meet the needs of the practice as a business results in lower value being placed on research as an activity.

Finally, being employed directly by GPs who see themselves as the leaders in general practice precludes many GPNs from the opportunity to seek out and pursue a clinical academic role.  Recommendations are presented in detail in the final report.