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Laszlo Penzes PhD with Integrated Clinical Practice

Emergency Department Nurse, University Hospital Southampton

Laszlo Penzes's Photo

Hi, I'm Laszlo and I'm studying a PhD on the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship Scheme at the University of Southampton.

Working, living and breathing in the very same environment where my research is happening gives me a better understanding of the experience of patients and healthcare professionals.

What led to you consider studying the field of Nursing?

I have an engineering diploma in Computer Sciences and my area of expertise was international business development and marketing. I’ve lived in three European countries over the past 20 years.

Deep down my motivation was to help make people’s lives better through the products we were developing and selling. This eventually surfaced in a desire to pursue a career that gave more purpose to my life. A great inspiration in choosing nursing was my wife, who has been dedicated to this profession for over two decades.

How was your undergraduate experience studying Adult Nursing at the University?

Going back to study something completely different at the age of 40, having family responsibilities and a daytime job, was a frightening thought! I had no previous experience in healthcare but once my studies started and I’d written my first essay, I noticed I was really enjoying it.

Practice placements added great value to our academic modules. I met true role models for the nursing profession, learned new skills and often made friends for life. I am still in touch with many of my former mentors and some of my colleagues in the Emergency Department at University Hospital Southampton, are people I met during these placements. The placement that had the greatest impact in choosing my current PhD research project, was in the palliative care environment at Countess Mountbatten House. The heavy burden of losing a loved one, with all its emotional, psychological, physical and social impacts, inspired me to investigate this area further in the Emergency Department.

Could you expand on the value of developing ‘critical thinking’ skills at undergraduate level?

Having a continental European background meant my learning had been focused on building a particular knowledge base. Although this offered many advantages, it teaches students to accept everything almost without questioning. ‘Critical thinking’ was a term that I met for the first time during my undergraduate studies here. At the beginning, it was hard to shift my way of thinking using this method. However using critical thinking both academically and practically helped me approach problems in a systematic and consistent way, how to recognise, build and appraise arguments and how to identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.

What led you to consider postgraduate research study and in particular the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship scheme?

As I was progressing in my Nursing degree I became slightly disappointed that my studies would soon end and always knew I wanted to use any transferable skills from my previous career, to add more value or see things from a different perspective in my new role. During my final year, an advert and an email promoting a Postgraduate Open Day, awakened my curiosity. I decided to attend the event and learn more about the available options.

It was very well organized and informative, presenting in detail a great variety of MScs, PhDs and Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship (CDRF) opportunities. Before I left, I knew I want to continue my studies. There were two main reasons to choose the CDRF scheme; it offered the possibility not only to study in a certain area, but also to work within the same organisation. Working, living and breathing in the same environment where my research is happening, I believe will help give me a better understanding of the lived experience of both the patients and healthcare professionals. The CDRF scheme is also funded, making it easier to find an optimum balance between research, work and financial responsibilities.

What is your area of research and the particular impact and challenges that death in emergency department settings can have on relatives and staff members?      

My area of research is “Sudden death in the Emergency Department (ED)”. This research is planning to understand the impact of death on both relatives and staff. While we can talk about planned and dignified death at home, in a hospice or even in a hospital ward, death in an ED setting is always a sudden, unexpected event. We know that people deal differently with grief. Some will experience depression which can have a long lasting physical, mental, emotional or even social impact on the individual. Others might experience anger, which may manifest later in a self-destructive way. Literature also suggests that one of the factors that can lead to staff burnout in EDs beside the stressful environment, long shifts and putting others always first, is experiencing sudden death.

What do you hope to achieve with the findings of your research?

Witnessing sudden death can be a life changing experience for all parties involved. On one hand we would like to understand better the experience of families and relatives when they are faced with the tragic news. The first minutes and hours could be crucial in how they will deal later with this event and what long-term effect will this have on their wellbeing. Improving the service and support provided, can potentially change thousands of people’s lives when they are facing their darkest hours. On the other hand, understanding the staff experience, will help us prepare and train them to deal with sudden death and to improve communication with relatives when breaking the bad news. Improving this aspect of clinical work, will potentially minimize the chances for staff burnout in EDs.

How did you find the application process for the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship (CDRF) scheme? What advice would you give to anyone considering applying?    

Preparing my CDRF application was a challenging but enjoyable adventure. It involved:

Once the application was submitted, I was asked to attend an interview. All interviews happened on the same day and last 30 minutes per candidate. Interviewers represented both the university and the hospital, academically and clinically.

My advice for anyone considering the applying for the CDRF scheme would be to focus on three key elements:

  1. Multiple applications
    Apply to more than one position in case you find more topics that you are interested in. I applied for four CDRF positions and was invited for two interviews and accepted on the one I wanted the most. I am glad I did not give up after the first attempt.
  2. Stand out from the crowd
    I had no previous experience in healthcare research. I did not have a Masters qualification either. But I had a set of skills and experience that I could relate to this job and make it work to my own advantage.
  3. Show your motivation and enthusiasm
    Speak from the heart. Be confident, do not forget to smile and do not be afraid to display the love for what you will do.

What has it been like to study at Southampton so far?

The University of Southampton made a very good impression on me from the beginning when I attended my first interview for the undergraduate course. The facilities, the content of our course, the lecturers, our supervisors, the resources available and of course my fellow tutor group members, made my journey so far, without exaggeration, memorable. The same stands for my current postgraduate studies. I feel I’m part of a community which supports and helps its members to find their best selves and succeed in their chosen area.

What are your aspirations for the future once you have completed your research?

As I am at the very beginning of my journey, I am still absorbing impulses from this new experience. I try to focus fully on what stands ahead of me, working towards the next milestone. This means that I keep an open mind and will probably channel my attention towards a certain career pathway in the second half of my course. However options that I see ahead of me are to continue in research, have a fresh start in education or using my experience from the private sector, pursue a leadership role in healthcare. Although it is not impossible to have a mixture of these roles. I am very optimistic and curious what the future will hold.

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