Student celebrates success after completing an impressive four qualifications at UCLan
Dr Alison McLoughlin has overcome adversity to reach upper echelons of academia.
Dr Alison McLoughlin is today celebrating not her first, or even her second or third qualification from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). Instead, when Alison walked across the stage this afternoon, she collected her fourth award – a PhD – from the University.
Alison is a UCLan-trained nurse, who worked at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in a split role of stroke specialist nurse and academic research nurse. In 2018, she was awarded a prestigious National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Doctoral Research Fellowship, based within the Stroke Research Team at UCLan, through which she undertook her PhD.
Alison, who is 46, grew up in Preston, attending St Cecilia’s RC High School in Longridge and Cardinal Newman College. She has a long and successful history of studying at UCLan: starting 18 years ago, Alison completed her Diploma of Higher Education Nursing in 2005 – and has since gone on the gain a Certificate in Critical Care Skills Development, and a Master of Science in Advanced Stroke Practice.
Today, she was awarded her PhD, having completed her thesis entitled: Evaluation of current evidence and practice to inform development of a Standardised Neurological OBservation Schedule for Stroke (SNOBSS).
Alison explains that the topic was one she felt incredibly passionate about:
“I have worked in multiple clinical and research roles over my career and have observed variation in the way that neurological assessment and monitoring is completed in practice. There are no specific guidelines about what, how, when, and over what period patients should be monitored to identify important changes in neurological status after stroke except for a very small number of patients. Through better identification of neurological deterioration and where possible treatment of underlying causes there is a real potential to improve outcomes for some patients.”
"I had seen how UCLan and the Stroke Research Team provided the infrastructure and career support that reflects and promotes research excellence and achievement. It was the ideal host for my Fellowship and PhD study."— Dr Alison McLoughlin
Alison felt that UCLan was absolutely the right place to undertake her research, under the supervision of Professor Liz Lightbody (Director of Studies), Professor Dame Caroline Watkins, Dr Philippa Olive and Professor Chris Price (Newcastle University). Dame Caroline Watkins leads the Stroke Research Team (SRT) at UCLan - the team has a national and international stroke research profile. Alison adds: “I became aware of the team when I was completing my nurse training here at UCLan and have been fortunate to have been involved and supported by them in several roles over the years. UCLan and the SRT provided the infrastructure and career support that reflects and promotes research excellence and achievement. It was the ideal host for my Fellowship and PhD study.”
But Alison’s journey through higher education has not been without some serious challenges along the way. During her Masters degree, Alison very sadly experienced a number of family bereavements, including the loss of her dad, her nine-year-old nephew, and then her niece at birth – it was a time of deep, personal grief for her and her family. And, as for so many, the Covid pandemic made life difficult: for Alison, in practical terms, it meant she struggled to get approvals for data collection during her PhD research, due to the challenges the NHS was under.
"I am just over the moon, absolutely ecstatic... I hope that the hard work and perseverance that it has taken to get to this point will be an inspiration for my children in the future."— Dr Alison McLoughlin
However, despite these difficulties, Alison has stayed the course with furthering her education and research, supported by her husband Ian, and her two children – 15-year-old daughter Tegan, and her son Niall, who is 13. She says that today is the pinnacle of all her hard work:
“I am just over the moon, absolutely ecstatic. The PhD route can be tough and the pandemic did not make it any easier. However, I had fantastic support from my supervisors. I will be forever grateful to them, my colleagues, my participants and expert group members, and family and friends for supporting me and my work through this process.”
Since submitting her PhD, Alison has been working as a research fellow and capacity delivery manager for the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North West Coast (NWC) Implementation and Capacity building Team, based at UCLan. The ARC NWC aims to improve outcomes for both patients and the public through improving the quality, delivery and efficiency of health and care services, and address health inequalities. Alison’s role means she is involved with projects that support the rate at which research findings are implemented to improve health services, as well as increasing research capacity and capability across the North West Coast Region.
Alison, who has also been recognised with a qualification from Arizona State University as well, concludes: “Completing my PhD means I have widened and developed my networks in both clinical practice and academic arenas; I feel I’m in a great position to build on this work and develop further to become an independent researcher of the future. It is so nice to celebrate this achievement with others today, and I hope that the hard work and perseverance that it has taken to get to this point will be an inspiration for my children in the future.”