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Women in research programme welcomes first nurse

A genetics specialist has become the first nurse to be accepted onto a programme that aims to help female researchers progress in their careers.

Dr Lorraine Cowley is among 24 women selected for the newest cohort of the Academy of Medical Sciences’ SUSTAIN programme.

“I’ve been striving for a clinical academic route throughout my career”

Lorraine Cowley

The year-long programme provides participants with tailored career support including training, mentoring and networking.

Dr Cowley said her selection on SUSTAIN was coming at the “perfect time” as she was about to embark on a new major research project.

Starting her career as an oncology nurse, Dr Cowley developed an interest in hereditary cancers, leading her to become a genetic nurse specialist.

She is one of the first people in the UK to dual register as a nurse and genetic counsellor, and has completed a PhD on Lynch syndrome, a genetic susceptibility to bowel cancer.

Her current role is principal genetic counsellor at Newcastle University and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Earlier this year, Dr Cowley achieved another first for a nurse when she was awarded a clinical academic research partnership fellowship by the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health and Care Research.

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The award provides successful applicants with funding towards their salary to support protected research time, as well as associated costs to undertake a project.

“Women continue to face obstacles to advancement, leadership and funding compared to male peers”

Paul Stewart

Dr Cowley’s research will explore the experiences of patients and health professionals, in 15 Latin American countries, of receiving and giving a diagnosis of a genetic muscle disease.

She will bring her insights back to the UK to inform genetic education.

Reflecting on her entry onto the SUSTAIN programme, Dr Cowley said she was “really pleased” to be the first nurse to do it.

She said: “I’ve been striving for a clinical academic route throughout my career, and I now have a fantastic opportunity to influence patient care in genetics through a clinical academic research partnership project that I’m incredibly passionate about.

“SUSTAIN has come at the perfect time to support me.”

Professor Paul Stewart, acting president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and SUSTAIN mentor, said: “Despite making up the majority of UK postgraduate research students, women continue to face obstacles to advancement, leadership and funding compared to male peers.

“SUSTAIN directly provides women with the tailored skills training, mentoring and networking shown to counteract these roadblocks.”

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