To an untrained eye, it can seem paperwork and referencing systems that fuel health research are significantly removed from the hustle and bustle of clinical practice.
But according to Professor Ann Bonner, a July inductee into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma) International Nursing Researcher Hall of Fame, her once-a-fortnight routine of being in the clinical environment in Brisbane helps keep her work connected to the field.
“All of my research is very clinically focused… It’s not lab-based research at all,” Professor Bonner says.
Professor Bonner is the Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Griffith University, with more than 30 years of experience in nephrology nursing practice, education, and research.
“My research is trialling out new ways of delivering models of care. Some are nurse-led, some are multidisciplinary, and it’s putting these new evidence-based models into the real world and evaluating them.”
Furthermore, Professor Bonner, who focuses on several factors associated with kidney disease, from its early detection and assessment to dialysis and kidney supportive care (including end-of-life care), says her research relies on a direct relationship with the hospital, community and primary care areas.
“There are more nurses, especially bedside nurses with PhD qualifications who are conducting research directly in a hospital or community health setting, or out in the real world, so to speak,” she adds.
While her strong clinical associations are predated by more than 20 years of clinical practice in the renal unit at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, Professor Bonner’s own approach to research has also shifted as her academic career has progressed.
“My approach has evolved over time to be able to answer burning questions, and a lot of those burning questions… have come from nurses working in nephrology or other members of the kidney care team,” she explains.
Initially working with qualitative research primarily grounded theory for her PhD, over time, Professor Bonner began using strategies such as randomised controlled trials and implementation science methods, ultimately developing skills that now draws upon a variety of research methods.
Such approaches have laid the groundwork for participation in multiple funded research projects, including participation in a recent group investigation into the global experiences of kidney health professionals during COVID-19, as well as numerous book chapters, journal articles, and papers addressing kidney health.
Her extensive body of work has led to global recognition from organisations such as Sigma. However, Professor Bonner is not the only Australian to have received recognition from the organisation this year.
Professors Raymond Chan, Alison Hutchinson, Debra Jackson, and Jane Phillips were among those recognised by Sigma. Professor Bonner, who counts several of these recipients as friends and colleagues, says that the Hall of Fame induction was “a real honour”.
“I was amazed to be recognised in that way, with the others, who were recognised at the same time as me, as well as those that have been recognised previously from Australia,” she says, observing that Australia delivers an extremely high quality of nurse researchers for its population size.
“Most schools of nursing and midwifery [in Australia] are ranked really high in the world against the research metrics. Griffith University is ranked number two, and several other Australian universities are ranked in the top 10.
“For a country of our size and population, we do phenomenally well.”
On top of her research practice, leadership and management duties and fortnightly connection with the kidney service to run her Kidney Nursing Professorial Research Collaborative group, Professor Bonner supervises multiple PhD students at Griffith University.
It’s a strict schedule, but for Professor Bonner, who maintains a clear-eyed understanding of the relationships between teaching, research, and practice, it’s also about the fruits that her research and mentorship can yield for those who will eventually also make their mark.
“A fundamental thing is to give back, champion and grow the next generation the next wave of clinicians, of teachers and researchers — many nurses are all three,” she says.
“It’s about enabling people who reach out to you.”