Strengthening patient-centred research through collaboration and peer support


Healthcare professionals outside of medicine make up a very significant part of the NHS workforce, and are indispensable for initiation and delivery of patient-centred research. Supporting development of the next generation of non-medical clinician-scientists across Imperial College AHSC is therefore one of the major strategic aims of the NIHR Imperial BRC, with an ultimate aim of improving patients’ quality of life. Professor Pernilla Lagergren recently joined Imperial College’s Department of Surgery and Cancer as the Chair in Surgical Care Sciences on a part-time basis from Karolinska Institutet. In addition to sharing her international expertise in the area of cancer survivorship research, she chairs the newly initiated Healthcare Professional Academic Group (HPAG), which aims to increase the number of non-medical clinician-scientists. We caught up with Prof Lagergren to find out more about her work at Imperial and the HPAG.

What does your new role involve?

One reason of employing me was to bring in the expertise of cancer survivorship research and increase the awareness and use of patient-reported outcomes in clinical research at the Department. By collaborating and supporting leading researchers at the Department as well as conducting my own research in the field, I hope to be able to achieve this.

Another reason was to lead the newly launched HPAG, which I think is an exceptional initiative to gather and support clinical academic leaders from across the Imperial College AHSC in nursing, midwifery, pharmacy, healthcare science and the allied health professions. Many healthcare professionals have expressed a loneliness in their research engagement and HPAG will function as a hub for networking and sharing of experiences and support. HPAG may not only increase the number of researchers in the field, but also facilitate and improve the quality of the research by means of identification of people with specific expertise and facilitate fruitful collaborations.

What aspects of the role attracted you?

In my role at Imperial College London, I will have a broader research focus as compared to my research in Sweden, which focuses on oesophageal and gastric cancer survivorship. I find it very attractive to broaden my knowledge in different cancer diagnoses while at the same time bringing in my experience of the research methodology of using patient-reported outcomes in clinical projects. What also attracted me was the challenge of a leadership position for a larger group of people involving all different kinds of healthcare professionals. I hope that the HPAG will grow and with that also the number of clinical healthcare professional academic leaders.

What are your initial plans?

My initial plans are to get familiar with the University’s and the Department’s organisation and structure and how to best develop the HPAG. I am already engaged in some projects at the Department that involve patient-reported outcomes and I learn a lot from this collaborative work. In parallel, I am getting in contact with a lot of new colleagues and collaborators to broaden cancer survivorship research at Imperial.

About the HPAG, my initial plans are to get the organisation of the group running smoothly. I want to explore the members’ needs and wishes to form a basis of the group’s structure and focus. It is important to make the group visible and working with the webpage and dissemination of information about the group are on the list of initial plans.

Why is it important for Trust healthcare professionals to engage in research?

Healthcare should be evidence-based whenever possible, and healthcare professionals are the main health care providers. To be engaged in research facilitates evidence-based healthcare and makes the clinical work more exciting and instructive. If you as a healthcare professional identify an important clinical question or an emerging area of need to be evidence based in its delivery you should bring that forward, either as your own research work or in collaboration with someone who would like to take the lead of the work. I hope that the HPAG can serve as a support and guide to healthcare professionals who would like to take on such clinical research questions.

How has your research helped your clinical practice and career?

I have a background as a cancer nurse specialist working closely mainly with oesophageal and gastric cancer patients and it was in my clinical work my research interest started. I very much enjoyed my combined research and clinical work. In the clinical work, I could deliver care and support with a direct feedback from the patients and with my research work I could take patients problems to a higher level, explore and research ways of dealing with problems encountered. The results from my research have had a great impact on my own clinical work, on a departmental level and internationally.

One example is when we recognised that patients who received a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) sometimes missed out the prophylactic antibiotics before the procedure and sometimes they got the antibiotics prior to the procedure but the procedure was cancelled. We wanted to do something about this problem and conducted a randomised clinical trial testing an antibiotic in mixture that could be given directly in the PEG after the procedure was completed. The study was so successful – it changed clinical practice. In fact, I will present this study at the first seminar of the HPAG in December.

What would you say to staff at the Trust who are interested in a career in research?

Go for it! Today there are many initiatives ongoing to support healthcare professionals outside medicine to pursue a research career. The need for more clinical academic healthcare professionals has been long-recognised, and Imperial BRC and AHSC already have numerous supportive schemes implemented and administered through the centralised Clinical Academic Training Office (CATO).

I would suggest anyone thinking about a career in research to share their research idea with colleagues already involved in research to get guidance on who to collaborate with or reach out to. The track record of accomplishment of the supervisors and collaborators is crucial for development and progression of your research career. The HPAG may be a good group to engage with to get advice and support from a network of other healthcare professionals in research, while CATO can provide the necessary training and guidance to obtain funding for your research training.

You can read a report from the HPAG Launch Event here, and find out more about the HPAG and how to become a member, here. The first in-focus lunchtime HPAG seminar will take place on 6th December, where Prof Lagergren will describe development of one of her studies, and Dr Margaret Coffey will discuss an emerging research idea. Register for the seminar here.

Image: Prof Lagergren's group at Karolinska Institutet