Dr Ben Bowers pictured at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he is a Postdoctoral Associate

A clinical academic community nurse at the University of Cambridge has been named as one of the top 75 nurses and midwives who have contributed in a significant way to the National Health Service since its creation.

Dr Ben Bowers, a Wellcome Postdoctoral Research Fellow, has been honoured by Nursing Times as part of celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the NHS.

Based at the University’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Ben specialises in palliative and end-of-life care and is a Postdoctoral Associate at Jesus College, Cambridge. An alum of Homerton College and Trinity Hall, he left school at 16 with no qualifications to his name and it was a chance visit to an Accident & Emergency department that inspired him to go into nursing.

“I am delighted about this award, I’m actually still a bit in shock!” says Ben.

“To be named as one of the leading lights in my field, I can’t even process it properly.”

As a clinical academic, Ben has a dual role, working in healthcare at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust while researching ways to improve patient outcomes. He is also an interdisciplinary nurse researcher, working with colleagues across engineering, patient safety, social sciences, primary care and palliative care. Ben also co-founded and leads the UK-wide Queen’s Nursing Institute Research Forum, helping to develop community nursing research capacity.

Ben’s research is focused on anticipatory prescribing, under which ‘just in case’ medicine boxes are given to patients who are reaching the end of their life at home. Containing strong prescription painkillers and other drugs, the boxes are intended to ensure that patients have quick and easy access to medicine to ease symptoms of pain and discomfort.

However, Ben’s research has found that prescribing medicine boxes can alarm families, or that they may receive inadequate information about the drugs and symptoms that can be experienced in the last days of life. His research has also found that anticipatory medicine is sometimes used as a ‘sticking plaster’ solution to a more complex problem. 

While Ben fully supports anticipatory prescribing, his research has highlighted a need for better communication with patients and their loved ones. “It’s a critical intervention, we just sometimes need to communicate it better, and put it in place at the right time,” he says.

And his research has had an immediate impact on clinical practice. Ben says: “I’ve had community services come to me and say: ‘It’s so important what you are doing. You’re making us question motherhood and apple pie, challenging clinical assumptions and helping us to improve end-of-life care.’ It’s great to hear that my work is having that impact.”

Ben thinks part of the reason he’s been given the award is because he is still a relatively rare beast in the world of medicine.

“There’s an ambition for at least one in 100 nurses to be clinical academics, when in reality it’s probably less than one in 1,000, so if this award does anything I hope it encourages nurses to consider clinical academia – it’s a brilliant career and can give you the chance to improve patient care on a really wide scale,” says Ben.

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