NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Why research placements can help us to be better clinicians – A Manchester BRC research placement story

Becky Garside

Author: Becky Garside View Profile

Paediatric Audiologist/ BRC placement

My name is Becky, I’m a Paediatric Audiologist working at Macclesfield District General Hospital, and I recently benefitted from a 12-week Manchester BRC placement. The Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions (NMAHP) in Experimental Medicine placement took place within the Hearing Health Theme, and was based at The University of Manchester.

I have been an audiologist for 12 years, and exclusively working in paediatrics for six years. I love my job and thoroughly enjoy working with children.

I learnt about the Manchester BRC placement opportunities at a BRC Hearing Health showcase event. The showcase updated delegates on a range of current audiology research being carried out in Manchester. Someone who had recently completed a BRC placement attended the showcase and discussed the project they had been involved with. I was able to speak with them, and they were very encouraging with regards to the relevance and usefulness of the placement.

A career in research has often appealed to me, due to the continuous necessity to learn and remain at the forefront of audiology. I’ve always had an interest in translational research, and I was keen to improve links between The University of Manchester and our Trust, so I applied for a placement.

My Placement

My placement, working with BRC researcher Dr Garreth Prendergast, involved investigating an electrical response in the hearing pathway and how it behaved in the presence of differing stimuli.  Many studies that investigate auditory processing use  very simple sounds. Speech is a dynamic signal whose amplitude and frequency content change over time. Changes in the amplitude of the speech sounds are essential for word identification. There is evidence to suggest that using sounds that are still simple but modulate differently might give us more useful information about how the auditory system processes sounds and speech.  Developing a stimuli that mimics the modulation characteristics of speech but remains a simple sound could be useful for providing information about regions of the hearing pathway that are sensitive to more complex sounds. The aim of this study was to determine if non-standard test stimuli can provide further insight into how our brains process sounds along the hearing pathway.

Electrical testing has always been an area of audiology that I have found more challenging. The particular electrical testing I was conducting is called the auditory steady state response – an electrophysiological response that is evoked by a rapid   turning on and off, of a tone. Understanding how the waveforms of the different stimuli vary, and how the different neurons react, is not something that comes naturally to me and I find the theory quite complex. I was hesitant about the idea of spending so much time on a topic that felt out of my comfort zone. I explained this to Garreth and he was really helpful, he talked me through the theory of the electrical testing and gave me a good knowledge base before we started gathering some data. I have since been able to translate some of the information I learned into my clinical work and we are now carrying out a variation of the electrical testing I have become familiar with on my placement.

I now wish the placement could have been longer than 12 weeks as it’s not a lot of time to gather data, but it provided a really useful taster of what working in research is like and what to expect.

In the last few weeks that I spent on the placement, I was lucky enough to meet with Helen Whiston and Melanie Lough, research audiologists, at Manchester BRC. They are involved with several different studies at any one time, so one day might be working with remote hearing aid fittings and the next day they may be collaborating on a project aiming to provide low cost hearing aids to developing countries. I thought the diversity of their job was very appealing and quickly learned from them that a position as a research audiologist would spark my interest – the perfect balance between being involved as a clinician in research, learning new techniques and working with novel technologies.

My future

Towards the end of the placement, I expressed an interest in carrying out more research related work , either continuing with data collection on the project I had already been working on, or in a more general research audiologist role. I met with Professor Kevin Munro, Manchester BRC, Hearing Health Theme Lead, and we discussed areas of research I would be interested in, and where my current skill set lies. Within a few weeks of completing the placement I was told that there would be some funding to undertake some work for the Hearing Health theme, and I’ve been supporting their research for one day a week for the last eight weeks. I’m involved in a few different studies, the variety is really stimulating, and I’m learning new skills every week.

An example of research I’m currently involved with is the BAMBINO study, taking place within the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility (CRF) at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital (RMCH), part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT). The study is investigating hearing assessment in babies and children under two-years-old. We are exploring new ways of measuring whether or not babies respond to sound using familiar sounds and images, for example, characters and theme tunes from popular children’s TV shows. I’m using sound editing software and learning about sound filtering which could be transferable to using sound clips for testing hearing in clinic.

In another study, I am using technology which can be used in hearing aid fitting. This is technology that’s not used in the NHS and it’s been interesting to see how it works and the potential positives it brings to a hearing aid fitting appointment.

At some point in the future, I would love to be able to carry out a part-time research position, while continuing my part-time position in the NHS.

This opportunity has helped me to gain clarity on my career direction in the future and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I would absolutely encourage anyone with an interest in research to pursue any BRC placement opportunities that arise in the future, learning new skills and gaining knowledge always helps us feel like better clinicians.