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Joint PhD position to explore breastfeeding support for substance abuse mothers


NHS Grampian (NHSG) and Robert Gordon University (RGU) have joined forces in an initiative to support the development of clinical academic careers and research into local priority health issues. 

Sonya Macvicar The local health board, along with the university’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, have funded a three-year PhD studentship. Advanced Neonatal Nurse, Sonya MacVicar, has been awarded the studentship and began her three-year secondment to RGU at the beginning of November. 

Interest in the position was high, with a number of high-calibre applicants each presenting a research proposal to a panel of three academics from RGU and three professional leads from NHS Grampian .

At interview, Sonya presented on the use of interventions to support breastfeeding amongst mothers who are substance-misusing. The aim of such interventions is to reduce the number, length and severity of withdrawal symptoms that babies born to these women often suffer from.

Earlier this year, Professor Brian Webster secured funding from the Scottish Government Chief Nursing Officer Office to support research into local priority issues, such as substance misuse, mental health, chronic disease or early years.  He has worked in partnership with NHS Grampian and together it was decided to fund a salaried PhD which was open to nurses, midwives and health visitors.

Leading the interview panel was Professor of Midwifery, Tracy Humphrey. Tracy said: “The process was very competitive and I think that Sonya is an excellent candidate. This is a unique opportunity as it allows an experienced nurse or midwife to have protected time to conduct research, which aims to improve health, whilst developing sustainable research skills so that this contribution can continue beyond the PhD.

“Sonya’s proposal was strong because it is aligned with the national and local health priorities to reduce health inequalities and improve breastfeeding rates.” 

During her studentship Sonya will continue to work as an advanced neonatal nurse one day per week to ensure that her research is clinically focussed and that she maintains her skills and confidence. 

Sonya said:  “I am delighted at the prospect of having the time and resources to undertake this project and I am very grateful to NHSG and RGU for giving me the opportunity. I’m aware of the enormity of the task and the hard work ahead but relish the challenge.”

“I hope that my research will contribute to the body of nursing knowledge, even if only in a small way and from a personal perspective it would be nice to fulfil my goal of a PhD. Most importantly if this study makes a difference to clinical practice and improves the outcomes for mothers and babies then I feel that it will have been worthwhile.”  

Photo caption

(L-R) Sonya MacVicar and Professor Tracy Humphrey

Issued by:

Andrew Youngson
Communications Officer | Faculty of Health and Social Care
Robert Gordon University
Tel: 01224 262389
Email: newsdesk@rgu.ac.uk