11 November 2022
Audrey Dambaza is a Social Worker who joined the 2022 NIHR ARC West research internship programme after completing an MA in Social Work at the University of Gloucestershire. Her background is in adult social care, predominantly in local authorities. She’s worked as a practitioner in mental health, community rehabilitation, homelessness. In this blog she reflects on her career and motivations for applying to our research internship programme.
When I came across the advert for the ARC West internship on my university’s news page I thought it would be a great introduction to research methods. I felt that getting involved in research could really help me progress my career.
With the internship, I wanted to gain insight into clinical academia, access development opportunities and assess whether I would be suited for a career in academia.
Black women are rarely considered thought leaders in their field, despite a significant number of us working within health and social care. This is the case throughout the African diaspora and considering all people who are historically and systemically marginalised. This means there are few Black women teaching on some subjects or considered experts in their fields.
Some Black women have found themselves at the heart of struggles for social justice or health equality. However, the prevailing image of Black women is that we lack the knowledge and political sophistication to fit the image of an academic. This is particularly true for those who live under triple oppression (race, gender and class), myself included.
I seek to undermine these stereotypes by my continued efforts to develop myself in my chosen profession and hopefully contribute positively.
Before completing my MA in Social Work, I hadn’t been exposed to research very much. I viewed it as something that was specific to academics and not necessarily myself as a practitioner.
My Masters programme provided a good introduction which prompted my interest. My dissertation project, as well as the course’s teaching, helped develop my foundational understanding of research and analysis methods. As a student Social Worker, I then considered embarking on an academic career, hoping to contribute to my profession by performing high quality social work research.
I am grateful to my lecturers at the University of Gloucestershire, particularly my dissertation tutor Dr Stephen Cowden, my supervisor and course leader Barbara Neale, as well as my practice placement tutor Kate Hammond. They all have such breadth of experience as practitioners and academics. I learnt so much from them and developed as a practitioner, because they created an environment that fostered my growth and development, professionally and personally. I’ve only got this far by standing on the shoulders of these giants.
My work experience as a community social care practitioner in my local authority set the foundation for all this. It’s where my love for social work blossomed and what catapulted me towards the Masters.
My previous managers and team members all played a huge role in my development: Sandra Marshall, Amy Townson, Jamie Mahood and Tariro Jabangwe-Mango, to name a few. I had so much fulfilment from supporting people struggling with mental health particularly, because it’s a passion of mine. Also working with older adults in the community to maximise their independence and live full lives.
I also offer unending gratitude to my family. They are the ones who are the wind beneath our wings when we set out to pursue new goals.
Without a stable foundation, it’s difficult to balance work and personal life. For me, my mother has always been a huge support. A nurse for over 20 years, she inspired my career in social care. Her support was even more necessary over the past few years as I was studying while bringing up my son, who’s now almost three years old. She believed in my ability, provided much needed encouragement as well as supporting with childcare to enable me to complete my studies and the internship.
My internship was hosted by the ARC West Behavioural and Qualitative Science team. I analysed data from a recent ethnographic study investigating causes of delayed hospital discharge for older people living with frailty following unplanned admissions. This gave me the chance to analyse qualitative data in the form of interviews and observation field notes, trying to identify barriers and facilitators for patient flow to avoid delayed transfer of care. I focused on how attitudes towards interprofessional working and role understanding in acute care teams impacted on patient flow and hospital discharge.
The internship aims to give insight into health and social care research in clinical and applied settings and support in planning an academic practitioner career. I was managed by two mentors, Heather Brant and Clare Thomas, who are both researchers at ARC West who worked on the patient discharge study. It was such an honour and valuable experience to be mentored by established research professionals who have had successful careers.
This placement has also given me an overview of the research process, from project design to dissemination of findings. The team I worked with helped me understand research governance and publication processes, and knowledge mobilisation in partnership with the end users or beneficiaries of the research.
I’ve seen how researchers in different teams work together on projects and draw from each other’s specialisms. I had the opportunity to meet members of other research teams and learn about their projects. It was from one of these meetings that an opportunity came up for me to join another project as a Community Researcher at the end of my internship. This means that I can develop my research skills in the community.
The internship showed me the importance of reflexivity in research. I also learned how my own lived experience is the lens through which I experience and interpret research data.
I value how research produced by the ARCs is generated from the public and partners in practice. Through spending time in ARC West I was able to see how this operates in practice and witness benefits of the symbiotic relationship between research and practice in health and social care.
Moving forward I am hoping to undertake a research methodologies module as part of the NIHR-funded pathways. I am now carrying on as a practitioner in social work, whilst also working part time as Community Researcher on another ARC West project. This project is to do with another passion area of mine, improving HIV testing and access to sexual health services amongst members of African and Caribbean heritage communities, raising awareness and reducing stigma. I personally have lost family members to HIV and AIDS in the past so it has always been an area I volunteered in when I can. So having the opportunity to continue developing my research skills in an area close my heart is quite special.
My next challenge is to publish some of my work and contribute to conferences. I have discussed contributing a presentation for Social Work Week with Social Work England about the internship experience and to highlight the NIHR funded pathways aimed at social care researchers, students and practitioners.
Investment in social care research is increasing and, through my experiences on the ARC West internship, I now understand how practitioners like me can become involved.
Find out more about internships and other opportunities with the ARCs.