Sandy Middleton is a nursing trailblazer

Monday, 20 April, 2020

Sandy Middleton is a nursing trailblazer

Sandy Middleton — Fellow of the Australian College of Nursing (ACN), Professor of Nursing at the Australian Catholic University and Director of the Nursing Research Institute — is a passionate advocate of nurse-led research to improve the quality of patient care.

Her work on the Quality in Acute Stroke Care (QASC) program highlights the importance of nurse-initiated protocols in achieving better outcomes for stroke patients. As a result of Professor Middleton and her team’s findings, new stroke management protocols have been adopted across Australia and are currently being implemented in 12 European countries. In 2019, Professor Middleton was one of four finalists selected for the ACN’s inaugural Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers, an award acknowledging and celebrating the extraordinary contribution nurses make to the Australian healthcare system.

Professor Middleton was recently awarded fellowship to the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS) for her achievements and exceptional contributions to health and medical science in Australia.

Professor Middleton receiving the ACN’s Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers.

Formal training is vital

Continually exploring the ‘why’ in nursing care, Professor Middleton believes in questioning current nursing practices to improve care processes and patient outcomes. “Why do we do what we do and are there better ways of caring for our patients that result in improved outcomes for them?” she asks. Earlier in her career, this question led Professor Middleton to undertake formal research training to understand how best to rigorously investigate these important questions.

Advocating the crucial role that nurses play in the healthcare system, Professor Middleton wants other nurses interested in research to realise their ambitions via training. “The most important piece of advice I can give to those who are serious about understanding and doing research is the need to undertake formal research training,” she said.

“Research opportunities could include becoming a site investigator in a current research project to learn how trials are organised and how to contribute data. It’s also a good idea for nurses to link in with current clinical researchers at their hospitals, and to attend seminars and conferences to see how research is presented and how latest research could influence day-to-day practices.”

Professor Middleton also recommends undertaking a small quality-improvement study, advising nurses to enlist the help of a mentor in the first instance.

Passionate pursuit of knowledge

Professor Middleton is passionate about nurses pursuing research initiatives, but highlights that there are still barriers to be overcome. To make nurse-led research more accessible and valued, Professor Middleton wants to see significant funding in place for formal research training opportunities for nurses such as Master and PhD scholarships, the establishment of a career pathway in clinical research, and boosts in the number of experienced nursing research trialists able to generate rigorous evidence needed to guide nursing practice. Ward-level appreciation of the value of research and strategies for how best to integrate the expertise of nurses with PhDs into clinical practice would also go a long way to improving opportunities for nurse researchers.

What advice would Professor Middleton give to women thinking of moving into a leadership role? “Get a good mentor or mentors — they are invaluable.”

Looking to the future

As for the future of the nursing profession, Professor Middleton hopes to witness improvements in research training infrastructure, with an emphasis placed on its importance. An increase in clinical research roles — particularly those concentrating on multisite research as opposed to smaller quality improvement studies — would also be welcome. Finally, Professor Middleton hopes for better collaboration within nursing to answer some of the big questions surrounding clinical care gaps.

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