Professor of Nursing Research
University of Ulster
“I started as a student psychiatric nurse in Mullingar when I was 18 and whilst I knew I was not ‘cut out’ to be a psychiatric nurse long-term, I really fell in love with nursing and nursing older people in particular” said Brendan.
What does your job entail?
I am Professor of Nursing Research and Director of the Institute of Nursing and Health Research (INHR) at University of Ulster.
I am also the president of the All-Ireland Gerontological Nurses Association (AIGNA) and am also the chair of the charity, Age NI.
My job entails managing and leading the research programme of the INHR, in which there are around 60 staff members and over 80 doctoral students.
I also participate as one of the senior managers/leaders in the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences and in partnership with the heads of the schools of nursing and health sciences ensure that our programmes operate effectively.
As AIGNA president I ensure that nurses who work with older people influence national nursing and healthcare strategy and that the profile of nurses who work with older people is high.
Chairing Age NI I means I lead on the charity’s governance and ensure it meets its regulatory obligations and delivers its strategy.
Alongside all of this I maintain my own research which focuses on personcentred practice and practice development (with a particular focus on the care that older people receive).
I serve on a number of international editorial boards, policy committees, and development groups in these areas.
The focus of this research is the ‘everyday’ practice of nurses and everyday care that older people receive in all kinds of settings — bathing, eating/drinking, mobilising, etc but trying to do it in a way that’s caring, dignified and compassionate.
Is it 9-5?
It is definitely not that.
I tend to work long hours and would have the reputation of being a ‘workaholic’.
However the flexibility that the role offers is wonderful and it means that I can do my work at any time of the day (or night!).
How did you get into this line of work?
When I was in school I only ever wanted to be a chef but never managed to make that happen.
I left school very unsure what I wanted to do/be.
During the summer the school of nursing in my local psychiatric hospital were advertising for student nurses and I thought ‘I fancy that!’
I applied and got accepted. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.
Tell us about your qualifications/training.
I am a registered psychiatric nurse and registered general nurse.
I have an honours degree in nursing from Buckinghamshire College and a postgraduate certificate in the education of adults from Surrey University.
I gained a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford in 1998 where I studied in the Department of Educational Studies.
Outline your career to date.
I started as a student psychiatric nurse in Mullingar when I was 18 and whilst I knew I was not ‘cut out’ to be a psychiatric nurse long-term, I really fell in love with nursing and nursing older people in particular.
I moved to Reading in England and qualified as a registered general nurse and after doing a degree and postgraduate education programme I ended up in an innovative role in Oxford and at Oxford University doing a doctorate in philosophy.
Throughout all this time I continued to maintain my interest in nursing older people and worked in a variety of roles.
I became the co-director of the gerontological nursing programme in the Royal College of Nursing (an integrated programme of education, research and policy work).
I loved research and in particular ‘action research’ (a form of research that is focused on changing practice and working alongside practitioners in getting research into practice).
After 20 or so years working in England, I moved to Northern Ireland to an innovative joint role as a professor with the Royal Hospitals Trust and the University of Ulster.
It was the first post of its kind in the UK and was very exciting.
I stayed in that role until 2008 when I moved full-time to the university and in 2011 took on the role as director of the INHR.
What qualities are required for your job — personal and professional?
Being flexible and resilient have to be the most important personal qualities, as well as being interested in people.
Professionally, the qualities of a transformational leader are paramount as so much of my role is spent alongside people encouraging, navigating, removing barriers and obstacles and dealing with administrative issues that help us all be more effective.
All of these demands bring their own challenges and rewards — but life is never dull!
What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?
Research and development work is highly competitive and is increasingly having to be undertaken within ever reducing funding streams.
As the leader of the nursing and health sciences research group in the university, there are significant challenges in terms of ensuring that we perform well.
In 2008, in a national assessment of research, nursing research at the University of Ulster was ranked in the top three in the UK and so there is significant pressure on me to keep us there!
Knowing that the research I do has an impact on the everyday lives of people who use health and social care services and nurses is hugely rewarding.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I go to the gym a lot — pounding the treadmill is really such a good stress reliever!
I love to cook (I am still a frustrated chef really) and I travel a lot.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I was a member of an Irish dancing troupe that won the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann set dancing championships in 1984 and 1985
Who has inspired you most in your life?
I hate this question as there are so many.
I have been very blessed with having some amazing mentors in my life, but if I have to choose one person it would be Dr Susan Pembrey who recently died.
She believed in me and appointed me to my first major role in Oxford.
She took a risk on me and worried more about the potential she saw in me than how well I fitted the ‘criteria’ set before her — I wish we had more of that in our lives