It was grey, the faded, shapeless hospital gown that she wore. A beige one foot-wide cabinet stood beside her, containing all of her personal objects. She was 92 years old; an ex REN, wife and mother of two and profound cat lover. We referred to her as 'bed 22'.
It was at that moment as a student nurse that I knew hospital nursing was not for me.
I have worked in the community for almost four years now and not a day passes where I miss that grey, faded hospital gown. You see, out in the community things are a little different. Patients are not patients as you would think. They are people who wear bright pink polka-dot pyjamas, or dark green tweed jackets decorated with war medals. Personal objects fill every room, treasured ornaments stand proudly upon mantel pieces, photos scattered capturing stories of lifetimes passed. As for pets, I have been smothered by cats, frightened by tarantulas and even urinated on by an over excited puppy! When working in the community, behind those closed doors, you become an invited guest - not only to a person’s home but into their life; the real, beautiful complexity of life.
When we think of research, our thoughts often go back to grey; grey laboratories, grey patient wristbands, plain, sterile cubicles. A theory may well work when tested in the grey four walls of a hospital with nurses observing every breath, every move. But how then can research fit in the community that is far from grey behind those closed doors of the community? The answer lies in opening those doors and giving life to ‘real- world’ research where patients become people and the complexities of life can be considered.
Since started my role in the research team, we have worked on encompassing this passion I have for community nursing to ensure that we are opening those doors. Our aim is to give everyone in the community the opportunity be part of research and we mean everyone! We acknowledge that this is no overnight job, to achieve this will take a whole systems approach in changing not only how we do things as a team, but how research does things. We believe that we can lead this change and drive forward our passion for making sure that everyone counts.
We have started by working with the community teams and developing the successful Care Home Research Partnership across Portsmouth, which we hope to develop in Southampton too. The partnership is gives the opportunity to care homes and it’s residents to be part of research and improvement. Care homes are absolute hubs of life; they are full of people who are engaged and willing to have a voice in how their care and future care can develop. We have really exciting plans for 2018 on expanding this work further building on our partnership and extending this partnership behind all those closed doors.
For me, communities represent real life. It is in the community where people are seen as a whole. As healthcare becomes more community focused it has never been more important to have research out of the labs and out here in this real world of real life. I really believe that by including everyone and widening access to research we can together make a difference to the future of healthcare. So let’s open those doors to our vibrant communities where it is absolutely 100% not grey!