“If we recognise all women who were very successful in their research career, this will encourage more women to get into research and follow the success of others.”

Vivien Mendoza travelled thousands of miles from the Philippines to work as a nurse in the NHS. Starting on a critical care ward at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, she is now one of three matrons at the NIHR Cambridge Clinical Vivien Mendoza Research Facility (CRF) in the Cambridge Clinical Research Centre (CCRC).

The last two years, Vivien and her team have been working on the front line delivering COVID-19 trials in Cambridge.

We asked Vivien more about her research journey – and what it’s like to be involved in ground-breaking research that helped develop the medication now used to treat millions of people worldwide.

Hi Vivien, you are a research matron at the CRF, what does this mean?

As matron, I oversee all the research on level 5 unit of the CCRC. This area supports all kinds of research involving adult participants that are non-oncology (cancer) studies like neurology, psychiatry, lysosomal disorders, diabetes studies and Covid trials to name a few.

Before a trial can take place in our facility, I review study applications that could potentially be allocated and supported by our unit. I first see whether we can support the trial and make sure any issues are identified and resolved before it’s sent to our SAB (Scientific Advisory Board) for final review.

I also help run the COVID-19 Platforms to help with Covid research on the campus and support our Outreach team in the wards.

How did you become involved in research?

I arrived here in UK from Philippines in October 2001. I was assigned to work in neurosciences department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. I worked there for eight years.

My colleague in the ward had moved to the Clinical Research Facility, in the Addenbrooke’s Centre for Clinical Investigation and encouraged me to apply and work with her.

At first I was hesitant, as I mistakenly believed that a research role would be purely paperwork. I couldn’t see myself doing such work as my passion is direct patient care and looking after people.

Towards the end of 2009, my job on the neurosciences ward was affecting my health. But I was in a job I loved, it was interesting and really fulfilling to help patients begin their road to recovery and I wanted to stay in my comfort zone.

I finally decided to follow my friend and I put in my application. I found my whole perception of what it’s like to work in clinical research was completely wrong and this is where my career in clinical research started and I am loving it.

Working in neurosciences I felt like I was doing something really worthwhile and I feel the same way now in the Clinical Research Facility. Plus I still get to work with patients. Getting involved in studies that might lead to change in patient care or help to improve the care given for our patients is truly rewarding.

I continued to progress in my clinical research career, I just love what I am doing. The most challenging and exciting role was when I led the CRF Outreach Team during the start of the pandemic. And those experiences have helped me develop my full potential that has led me to where I am now.

You mentioned you led a lot of the Covid trials at the NIHR Cambridge CRF. As a research matron, what did you have to do?

At the start of the pandemic I was asked to support a study team looking at a new diagnostic test for COVID-19, called a SAMBA II Machine. It’s a point of care device adapted from HIV testing that could help detect COVID-19 in patients a lot quicker, this is where the CRF Outreach Team originated.

The CRF Outreach team went to all the Red Wards (which were designated Covid wards) in Addenbrooke’s hospital to approach and recruit COVID-19 patients to any of the COVID-19 trials once they were reviewed and screened by the medics.

Cambridge set up a lot of local and national Covid trials – and we helped recruit patients to TACTIC-R and TACTIC-E, RECOVERY, HEAL COVID, COVID-CNS and DARE 19. We also helped the NIHR BioResource team with their COVID studies and to sign up participants for COVID research as well as other studies.

Organising the CRF Outreach Team and working with research nurses from other departments has been the highlight of my career so far.

What have the challenges been working through COVID-19?

When we first started to support studies involving COVID-19 patients, there were many anxieties and fears mainly because we were about to have face-to-face contact with people who were infected of a virus, but the world still had to investigate its causes.

We had to boost the confidence of our staff through constant updates of current information to make them aware of our situation on how we can protect ourselves/our staff whilst doing the job that we are good at. Staff were continuously attending COVID-19 training that the Trust had organised, I booked them for mask-fit testing and supported those who required a special type of mask, making sure that they would not be exposed to the ward without full protection.

Another challenge was gathering redeployed staff from other areas whose trials were put on hold and who had joined the CRF Outreach Team, so I was making sure they knew what to do. We also worked with other research teams who were recruiting COVID-19 patients and that was a challenge to make sure the right patients were in the right trial.

I think what made it difficult was whilst COVID-19 was increasing in the community, some of our trials such as our cancer and dementia research, needed to remain open in the hospital. Other staff who were asked to support us still had their existing workload that could not just be stopped.

It was also a challenge to organise staff that came from another team in which they were not used to doing certain procedures like venepuncture/cannulation or giving IV infusion using pump. I made sure they were supported and had a “Buddy” with our own CRF staff who are trained to do those activities. It was about sharing the workload, as they would be familiar with inputting different kinds of data which our staff were not used to.

The demand for our support was extremely high and I was worried that how much work there was for our staff. I made sure we did frequent assessments and our staff were still happy to continue to do our outreach activities, which was great.

International Women’s Day theme this year is ‘breaking the bias’, what does this mean to you?

Get involved in a discussion and decision making, taking into consideration the skills of the staff involved; get others’ opinions and work as a team; make use of each other’s strengths and consider each other’s weaknesses.

Why do you think International Women’s Day is important?

It recognises the achievement of women in a bolder way. It will show that women can also reach the top spot, we can show this through recognition of the top women achievers.

Recognising the success of women who are researchers will encourage more women to take up a research career pathway. If we recognise all women who were very successful in their research career, this will encourage more women to get into research and follow the success of others; this will make them realise that they are not alone.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you were starting your career?

I would tell myself to stop making assumptions, go and find answers to my questions like visiting the areas or explore things that create lots of doubts or questions.

Continue to compete with my own accomplishments, achievements, successes to have a better version of myself.

Continue to be a very good example and role model to your colleagues.

What three words would you use to describe working in research?

Rewarding, Fulfilling, Satisfying

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