Blog Viewer

Q&A: newly created nurse scientist role blends practice with research

Advanced practice clinician researching informatics, mental health, addictions

By Sara Ling & Gillian Strudwick
January 30, 2023
Courtesy of Sara Ling
“I graduated from my PhD program earlier this year, so it’s exciting to be able to quickly transition into a scientist role, where I can continue to develop my skills and collaborate with other researchers,” Sara Ling says.

Editor’s note: Gillian Strudwick has been instrumental in creating scientific opportunities for PhD-prepared nurses at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), including the associate scientist role that Sara Ling recently started. In this interview, Ling and Strudwick tell Canadian Nurse about the formation of this new role and what it is like to be both a nurse and a scientist.

Questions asked of Sara Ling:

Tell me about your scientist role.

In my scientist role, I am involved in research related to addictions, which is my area of clinical expertise. I also have a strong interest in clinical informatics and the intersection of technology and mental health/addictions care. Working with Strudwick and her research team allows me to pursue these interests and engage in research that touches on both of these important topics. I graduated from my PhD program earlier this year, so it’s exciting to be able to quickly transition into a scientist role, where I can continue to develop my skills and collaborate with other researchers.

What do you hope to accomplish?

As an early-career scientist, it is important for me to establish a program of research and secure funding to develop future studies. In the coming months, a big focus of my work will be writing applications for grants and other sources of funding. Another important part of being a researcher is disseminating the findings of your work. Changes in clinical practice are dependent on robust communication of research findings. So one of my priorities is to publish, present and share my research in a variety of different formats and forums. Ultimately, my goal is to conduct research that has a positive impact on the clinical population I work with.

How do you manage your time as both a scientist and an advanced practice nurse?

This is something I am still learning about! I spend three days per week in my research role and the other two days in my advanced practice clinical leader role (advanced practice nurse role). I appreciate this split in my time because it is really important to me to remain connected to clinical work. I also generate a lot of research questions through my involvement in clinical care! My new schedule is stimulating and busy, and I am disciplined about protecting my time in each role. So far, it is working out very well!

Questions asked of Gillian Strudwick:

What is unique about this role?

There are so many unique aspects of this role. The first is that scientist roles are still very rare for nurses to obtain in Canada, despite many of our physician colleagues pursuing this path in academic clinical settings. Her role is distinctive in that the discipline area in which she has both clinical and research expertise is significantly understudied and is a serious public health issue. She is able to contribute as both a clinician and a scientist to addressing important addictions challenges in Canada.

What motivated you to create this role?

Nurses have so much to contribute to research and science, and yet there are so few nurse scientists in Canada. There are even fewer nurses who are able to work in “clinician-scientist” roles, where their time is split between clinical practice and research in a discipline area, like addictions care. I was thrilled to work with a clinical director (Shayla Gutzin) and our research services office’s team at CAMH to establish this role at our organization as a real “first.” I was, of course, so excited to hear that Sara Ling was up for the challenge. There is a real need for strong mental health and addictions research in this country, and nurse scientists will play an important role in both conducting this research and pushing this important agenda forward.

What are some key strategies for supporting and mentoring new scientists?

One thing that I think is key is having someone who will make regular time and will offer a listening ear as new scientists begin their journey and learn the “unwritten rules” and “norms” of the scientific community. I think it’s really important to have an open and non-judgmental approach as some of the spaces that new scientists have to navigate (e.g., peer review, getting rejections from grants) can be difficult and intimidating. As well, it’s important to be a cheerleader and supporter. Doing good science isn’t easy! A mentor should be there to encourage as well as help navigate and give advice.

How can nurses who are interested in research get involved in science?

There are so many ways that nurses interested in research can become more involved in science. Nurses can be leads of research studies (e.g., as a scientist or thesis student), participate as a part of a research team, support the uptake of research at their workplace and provide expert advice, among many other ways. There is a lot of research out there that has yet to be implemented in clinical practice. Nurses are key to addressing this knowledge translation gap. Additionally, nurses can join research interest groups that exist — perhaps a journal club — and attend forums or conferences on topics that are relevant to them.

Sara Ling, RN, PhD, CPMHN(C) is an associate scientist and advanced practice clinical leader in inpatient addictions services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Gillian Strudwick, RN, PhD, FAMIA, FCAN is a scientist and the chief clinical informatics officer at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She is also a member of the Canadian Nurse editorial advisory board.