Registered Nurse researches parents support needs following the death of their baby


Michaela Barnard started her nursing career as a registered adult nurse. She decided she wanted to become a children’s nurse and has 15 years’ experience in a neonatal intensive care unit as a staff nurse and then a sister. For the last five years in her clinical role, Michaela was a bereavement support sister, offering support and guidance to the families of babies who have died shortly after birth. Michaela is currently a lecturer in Children and Young People’s Nursing at the University of Salford. She is now undertaking a PhD in this subject area and has received a research scholarship from the Florence Nightingale Foundation. The title of Michaela’s study is: “Parents’ experiences and perceptions of their support needs during and following the death of their baby.”

How did you find out about the Florence Nightingale Foundation research scholarships and how has it benefited you?

I had started an MPhil but I wanted to upgrade this to a PhD. I am currently studying part time as I am still working as a lecturer. I had previously heard about the Florence Nightingale Foundation through my work and colleagues, and when I was actively seeking funding I saw their research scholarship and thought it looked fantastic. I filled in the application form but thought I didn’t have much chance of getting through to the interview stage. When I was contacted and invited for an interview I was delighted to even get that far. To be offered the scholarship was an amazing feeling.

Of course the financial support is very helpful and it paid for one year’s post graduate fees. This is far from the sole benefit of being a Florence Nightingale scholar however, as the support and guidance offered by the Foundation is invaluable. I have been invited to conferences and offered assistance from people with a wealth of research experience. I also meet other nurses who are doing research into many different and worthwhile areas. While we are not doing the same thing, it is great to network with these people and gain an understanding of the other types of research being done.

Why did you choose to conduct your research on this topic?

I have always had a strong passion for undertaking research around parents’ experiences within end of life care. The lack of solid evidence in the area of neonatal bereavement support made me realise that my research could make a difference to the families I worked with on a daily basis. There is no national benchmark for the quality of support that must be available, and while there are some guidelines, I want my research to highlight what parental needs there are and how these are currently met. This is something that has been very close to my heart for many years now and I appreciate from my work with these families how difficult life can be when their baby has died.

What are the aims of your research?

My aim is to understand parents’ experiences of grief and life after the death of their baby, including whether they had any support from health professionals or others, what support mechanisms they used at home, and how helpful these various sources were. I hope that through my research and evaluation I can offer recommendations on how to improve the service and support.

What do you hope to achieve?

I want to be able to present strong evidence of parents’ experiences and support needs through my research. I believe my research can fill a gap in our current understanding and really highlight what parents find supportive during this period. I want to disseminate my research both regionally and nationally and I have already presented the literature review for this study at an international conference.

For my personal development, completing a PhD is a huge achievement and an opportunity to learn research skills that can be transferred into other projects in the future. Because I feel so strongly about my subject, I don’t want my research to stop once my PhD is completed. I know that more research can be done in the future to improve the support offered to parents who have lost their baby, and I am determined to continue researching this once I have completed my current project.

About the author

NHS Professionals administrator

NHS Professionals manages the temporary staffing needs of around 66 NHS Trusts across England. An integral part of the NHS, it aims to reduce Trusts’ spending on flexible workers without compromising quality, by providing greater transparency of demand and supplying bank staff at the best possible rate. Its bank of more than 40,000 flexible workers comprises general and specialist nurses, doctors, midwives, admin/clerical , allied health professionals, healthcare scientists, support services among other healthcare professionals.

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