A journey of success in nursing graduate research and upcoming PhD studies

Nursing does not need to stop with an undergraduate degree. Some of the most fulfilling work can arise from graduate research and post-graduate study. Nicole Pope discusses her experience in graduate research and goals for her PhD, following her work with paediatric pain.

After her Bachelor of Nursing degree in 2009, Pope worked at the Alfred hospital in the Adult Burns unit and the Emergency and Trauma Centre. She relocated to Western Australia in 2013, where she completed a Certificate in Paediatric Nursing. This was followed by a Master of Philosophy (Higher Degree by Research) Nursing and Midwifery, where she was awarded a $21,000 Grant from the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation to support her research looking into paediatric pain. After graduating from her Master’s in 2018, Pope received the “Be Sweet to Babies” PhD Studentship, which is set to start in January 2021 and run for three years. Here she shares her story.Photograph of Nicole Pope

Congratulations on receiving the “Be Sweet to Babies” Studentship. Could you tell us about the research projects you have planned for your PhD?

I will be working in paediatric hospitals in Australia. The research focuses on how well Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are being used in managing paediatric pain and whether this has impacted how the issue is being managed. I am also investigating the user experience of managing children’s pain, including how health-care professionals use the EMR system to assess and manage children’s pain.

Another exciting aspect of this study is seeking how primary caregivers and children see their involvement and usage of EMR in helping us to manage children’s pain. We know that children’s pain experience is influenced by several factors, and understanding these factors is important in caring for children who have pain. We intend to investigate the potential for caregivers and children to be involved in using EMR systems, this may include accessing some interface of the EMR so that they can document their children’s pain experience and what has helped in managing their pain. Involving primary caregivers and children is important in gaining personal perspectives and insights into these pain experiences, and in helping us as nurses improve pain outcomes for children.

How was your experience in finding your supervisors?

Overall, it was a positive and easy experience. Finding a supervisor is really about finding where your passion lies and looking for people that will be able to lead you in that direction. My absolute passion is paediatric pain, and through my experience in that field, I became familiar with the experts in this area. As a result, I sought the supervision of Dr Di Crellin because I know she is doing excellent work on the assessment of pain and the use of technology in improving how we assess and manage children’s pain, and I know she also works clinically, which is very important. She put me in contact with Professor Denise Harrison, who is someone I would always aspire to have in my supervisory team.

They were very receptive; they have been incredibly supportive of my application for the scholarship; getting my proposal ready and my PhD application.

What are your goals as both an academic and a researcher?

I set myself short and long-term goals. My primary motivation is addressing how we can help children in pain. We have come a long way in helping children improve the way we assess and manage children’s pain, and there is a lot of marvellous research that has been undertaken in this area, but we still have a long way to go.

In my academic profession, I aim to translate some of the knowledge I will gain from my PhD into what we teach to our undergraduate students and our post-graduate nursing students to then apply it in practice. My career goal is to maintain both clinical practice and academic teaching, and of course, continue my passion for research

What were your motivations behind doing graduate research and pursuing a PhD?

To be completely honest as an undergraduate nurse, I did not think that I would ever do anything to do with research in my career. I think perhaps as an undergraduate, I believed that it was something that you only ever did if you had many years of experience. It seemed to be too far-reaching for me, and I don’t think I appreciated the importance of it either.

This changed when I started to work clinically. I developed an inquisitive mindset and noticed that there were gaps in our practices, areas that could be improved or could be further investigated. From there, it just occurred to me that I could make a difference to clinical practice and that this was, in fact, an important role as nurses.

It’s exciting that as nurses our role is so broad and we have so many different capacities as both clinical and research staff.

You have been very successful throughout your post-graduate studies and have several papers published. Could you tell us a bit about your experience in publishing research?

I wanted to showcase the research of my Master of Philosophy by publication. I was lucky to have an incredibly supportive team of colleagues and researchers throughout my Master’s degree, resulting in five publications. 1 2 3 4 5

One of my publications from my master’s degree was related to using the “draw, write and tell” technique to engage children in research as participants. While this data collection technique has a history in other fields, such as education, it is relatively new in health research involving children.  My study was the first Australian study to use this technique in exploring children’s pain experiences with very young children. The research involved children drawing pictures of their pain and talking about their drawings. The journal that this research was published in used one of the children’s illustrations as the cover of the journal. I was so excited to be asked to use one of the children’s drawings in this way because this was one way to share the voice of that child, and I believe this is a great step for people to see the message behind what drives what I do.Image of child's drawing on journal cover

Since my Masters, I have continued to remain engaged in undertaking research with further publications. 6 7 8 Getting published is one important way to make sure that what we know and what we learn from our research is translated into practice. Importantly though, we must never forget the importance of collaborating, making sure that we are engaging and working with consumers, being children and their families, and working with our industry partners and of course working with nurses.

What advice would you give to nursing students who are considering pursuing a PhD?

I think that if you have a passion for an area, go for it! Throughout my research journey so far, I’ve managed to get married, moved interstate and have two children. My experience in graduate research has certainly been manageable and incredibly fulfilling. I am really looking forward to starting my PhD. I have heard so many amazing stories and I believe that as long as you have passion and commitment, it will be an incredible experience.