International Women’s Day 2022: Catherine Renwick

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year we interviewed two female colleagues working in research at Royal Brompton & Harefield hospitals.

In this interview, we spoke with Catherine Renwick who has worked at our hospitals for 23 years in a range of roles, includig as a bedside nurse in the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and a clinical nurse specialist.

Catherine currently works as a consultant nurse in the paediatric arrythmia and Inherited Cardiac Conditions (ICC) services, where she sees children with many different diagnoses including arrythmias (abnormality of the heart rhythm) that occur due to congenital, acquired and inherited causes.

Read her interview below.

What inspired you to get involved in research?

There are several reasons why I got into research.

I didn’t participate in research when I was a PICU nurse but once I moved into a nurse specialist role, research was always a component of our job description. Despite this, research was still one of the things that you never quite got to do because you don’t have protected time, and it’s quite hard to devote time to research due to busy clinical workloads.

One of the differences between nurses and doctors when it comes to research is that nurses don’t have job plans set out in quite the same way, so finding time to complete research is always quite difficult.

However, since starting in my current role as a consultant nurse it’s become a bit easier to devote time to research. There are four key domains of a nurse consultant role which we are expected to develop, and research forms a part of this. For me, research was the area I felt I needed to develop the most and could also benefit from more training in.

What excites you the most about research?

What excites me the most is being able to develop my skills and level of experience which will enable me to work on research projects which benefit patients.

Another thing that excites me about research is that I see myself as a facilitator for other nurses developing along their research career. I think it’s really important that we have advocates for nurse-led research because it’s something we could still improve on as nurses.

Do you remember having to make any difficult choices in your research career?

One time that was very difficult in my career was stepping away from my bedside nursing role. I used to work in PICU at a time when clinical nurse specialist roles didn’t come along that often - and I knew that was what I wanted to work toward but I didn’t feel quite ready for it.

But I also knew I wanted to stay in PICU and become a sister before I moved into the cardiac clinical nurse specialist role. But the job for a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) role came up and I knew it may not come up again for a while so I applied for it and I got the job.

Although the CNS role did take me away from my clinical bedside role, which I really missed for a long time and I still do, to a certain degree, it has opened up many opportunities. One of which is now being a consultant nurse and being more research active.

What are the most challenging aspects of research for you? Do you mind sharing how you worked to overcome these?

At the moment I’m completing a HEE/NIHR pre-doctoral clinical academic fellowship (PCAF) so I’m juggling spending half my time on clinical work and the other half on my PCAF, which is quite challenging.

However, the thing I’ve struggled with the most has been learning how to use new statistical software. Although our hospital statistician, Winston Banya, has been fantastically supportive and patient, I’ve had to do a lot of learning from scratch to overcome this. I’ve been using additional online resources for learning including webinars and videos. So this has been a real challenge for me!

What's been your greatest accomplishment so far?

In terms of research, my first great accomplishment has to be completing my master’s degree and dissertation. I carried out some primary research looking at the exercise habits and barriers to exercise for children with arrythmias, which was a massive piece of work and I was really pleased to get through that.

My second greatest accomplishment in research has been getting through my PCAF application, which was quite a challenge, because I was submitting during the height of the pandemic.

Clinically, my greatest accomplishment was becoming the first non-medical paediatric prescriber in our department back in 2010, which looking back now was quite an accomplishment.

Outside of work I would say that completing the 2021 London Marathon was without a doubt my greatest achievement!

Are there any women, either in your field or outside of it, who you admire and why?

I think it’s really important that we recognise female role models in the workplace, and in any field. Personally, I don’t think I would have got to where I am in my career without the support of female role models.

I had a fantastic mentor when I worked in PICU, someone who no longer works here but is the lead for education at another London hospital. We also had a fantastic director of nursing, Michelle Hiscock, who encouraged me and suggested I complete the non-medical prescribing course.

Read the interview with Dr Elizabeth Renzoni, respiratory consultant