In profile: Helen Pearson

Helen Pearson is the first nurse from The Royal Marsden’s paediatric team to be awarded an NIHR Clinical Doctoral Fellowship to support her development into a clinical academic nurse.

Helen Pearson
Helen Pearson

The fellowship allows experienced clinicians to complete a PhD and build research skills that can then be transferred into clinical practice.

Helen discusses her PhD and its potential impact for those making treatment decisions.

Developing a decision aid

I started working at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in 2008 and have spent many years working with children and young people predominately diagnosed with solid tumours. Children with high-risk neuroblastoma (a childhood cancer) have a 50% chance of relapse. With no standard protocol for treatment at relapse, parents often feel burdened when trying to decide which option would be best for their child. This disease is highly complex with lots of different treatment options. However, in clinical practice I found that after all the treatment options had been presented to parents, parents ultimately make the treatment decisions with support from  healthcare professionals.

REDMAPP study (RElapse Decision MAking Parent Process)

I mapped out the number of treatment decisions parents could make and discovered that some parents could make up to 11 treatment decisions over a two year period. My research aims to understand how parents make repeated treatment decisions and whether parent decision-making changes over time. These findings will then be used to develop a decision aid to support parents when making these treatment decisions and help assist in discussions with healthcare professionals.

Patient and public involvement

I have a research project page on the Cancer Patients' Voice platform, which I’m using to engage and involve patients and the public in my work.  This helps support engagement with parents across Europe and Internationally, so the page is a helpful way of providing regular updates, ways to get involved and obtaining feedback on what support materials alongside the decision aid parents might need.

The patient and public involvement group involved in the study was initially developed in 2018. They have been instrumental in the design of the study, website and research questions, as well as understanding when to time interviews with parents to avoid emotional distress and analysing literature. The input of this group will continue throughout the study and beyond being involved in the development process of the decision aid as well as dissemination. The group have really helped me think outside the box and better my research.

Considering a research career

My advice to anyone considering a research career is to choose a topic you’re passionate about. Reach out to people within that field, develop collaborative networks and find a good supervisory team that are aligned with what you’re doing. Many healthcare professionals leave the NHS to pursue academic careers, so training and funding opportunities, such as the NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship, means that high-quality staff can be retained in clinical practice.

Our research: Uncommon Cancers

Improving diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of patients with uncommon cancers including cancers of childhood and adolescence.