Anca Manea is a NICHE Research Embedded Fellow and a Community Learning Disabilities Nurse working in the Norwich Adult Learning Disabilities Team for Norfolk Community Health and Care. Anca holds a Master’s in Advanced Professional Practice and a BSc (Hons) RNLD.

Anca is an advocate for People with Learning Disabilities, and she is very enthusiastic about improving the care of mothers and birthing people with Learning Disabilities antenatally and postnatally. Anca is also a member of the Shared Professional Decision-Making Council for CNO Research and she enjoys raising awareness about research in the learning disabilities field of nursing.

Hi everyone, my name is Anca, and I am a Learning Disabilities Nurse and a Research Embedded Fellow. This piece of writing will describe my journey with Research.

The term ‘research’ can have daunting connotations, with throwbacks to Uni days when some of us would spend hours trying to write literature reviews at a speed of 57 words per day. Then later on trying to find inventive ways to increase the word count, as we didn’t know what to write. I might have well been one of those people who associated the term research with the above and probably worse! You’ll wonder: what changed? I’ve changed!

I’ve started work as a Learning Disabilities Nurse and, like many of you, I have hit hurdles in my practice and I have tried to understand and find ways to improve care. Who knew that this is a significant part of the research process? So many of us are doing ad hoc research, but we don’t call it that; who knows why! It may be that if we would call it by its name, research may appear within reach to many of us. Could it be that most of us perceive the important processes we are implementing as business-as-usual, as anything but the fancy word, research? Who knows… I will leave you to reflect on this question.

How I became research-active

A while ago, I was working with a group of like-minded clinicians on an antenatal pathway for women and birthing people with learning disabilities. The group was innovative and crossed the boundaries of different trusts and agencies in Norfolk. My trust supported me in accessing the knowledge and finding tools to use to gather the data and make sense of it.

If you are also enacting improvements regularly in your practice, here are some service improvement tools that really helped me: the driver diagrams will help you understand how to develop your idea successfully, once you’ve already identified your aim. Why is this tool helpful, you’ll wonder? It will help with analysing the process and breaking it down into smaller actionable steps. Another good tool is Plan, Do, Study, Act. This one is quite important, as it will help you with showing to your managers, colleagues, commissioners and wider audiences that your idea is sustainable in a systematic way. Importantly, it will help you when you are reviewing if your idea is working, to understand if the project needs adapting, adopting or abandoning.  It can feel quite overwhelming to start with, but you must remember one thing: these resources are here to help you, you DO NOT have to use them all, but do use the ones that work for you and your project. Some other resources that I found very useful on my journey and still periodically browse are the QNI research resources.

Community Nursing Research Award

Back to my story. I was advised to submit a summary of the research for an NHS England and ICCHNR Community Nursing Research Award; to my disbelief, I was one of the winners! I’ve felt like a fraud all the way because in my mind I was only just doing my job, and I could not get myself to understand that what we were all doing was research! I got to travel to London and meet some amazing researchers and internationally renowned professors of nursing at the awards ceremony, along with the incredible CEO of the Queen’s Nursing Institute and heard the most beautiful and moving lecture. It felt quite surreal!

The warmth and support of these wonderful people made my Award so much more special. And it inspired me, inspired me to do better, to dare for more, and to fall in love for good with research and the research community (cheeky, I know). If you are a Learning Disabilities Nurse, you will understand why, as our field of nursing is significantly under-represented within the national research landscape. Learning disabilities nursing is one of the most wonderful and fulfilling professions there are, and you can get a glimpse of it and learn how much our speciality has evolved.

My next steps

On my return from London, I thought that this was it, back to reality now. Back to trying to convince people why our improvement project is important. But it didn’t go how I expected! My research award made people curious to find out about the project; meetings that were very hard to obtain became suddenly within reach! What used to be a struggle became a breeze, with people actively reaching out to us, wanting to hear more about the pathway and offering their help.

On reflection, what changed? Everything has changed – having the support from the research community has eased not only the struggles we were having in implementing the project. It also caused this ripple effect that will continue to hopefully have a beneficial effect on not just the clinicians involved but on patients as well. On a personal level, I was awarded a Norfolk Initiative for Coastal & Rural Health Equalities – NICHE (Anchor Institute) Fellowship for the University of East Anglia (UEA), with a wonderful opportunity to grow my research skills and horizons further!

The Fellowship allows me to investigate the sustainability of the antenatal pathway for women and birthing people with learning disabilities, giving me a platform to promote good practice in this specialist area. I have also had the opportunity to contribute to the UEA postgraduate Perinatal Mental Health module and teach midwifery students about Learning Disabilities.

Who knew research could be so much fun? Looking back on my journey, a key research journey challenge I’ve managed to overcome, was my own preconceived ideas about what research is, or what it should be!

Research can be for you. Just reach out to your research community and make that magic happen!



Photo by Cliff Booth on Pexels.

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