Davina qualified as a registered general nurse from Cambridge and Huntingdon School of Nursing and has a PhD in sociology from the University of Nottingham. 

She was appointed post-doctoral research fellow at Cardiff University's School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies in 1996 and was awarded a personal chair in 2004. She was research director at the school from 2003–2010.

She established and directed the Wales Centre for Evidence Based Care: A Collaborating Centre of the Joanna Briggs Institute (2005–2008). As principal investigator she led several large-scale multidisciplinary research projects.

Davina’s project

For Davina Allen, becoming an Improvement Science Fellow fulfilled a personal and professional goal and a remarkable turn-around in her career.

She left clinical practice soon after qualifying as a nurse because she felt frustrated with not being able to deliver the quality of care I wanted to. ‘I loved the patients but hated the system’, she says.

‘As a hot headed 22-year old I vowed I would return when I was in a position to make a difference although at the time I had no idea how I was going to do this’. 

Having since followed an academic research career, she says achieving the Fellowship was the opportunity she had been looking for.

Complexity of health care organisations and systems

Davina says she is intrigued by the complexity of health care organisations and systems and their link to clinical effectiveness, service quality and professional education.

She has extensive leadership experience in the context of higher education and has undertaken numerous ethnographic studies exploring the effect of working practices on service delivery combining social sciences knowledge with a clinical sensitivity to think about issues in a new way.

Davina says effective healthcare requires high-quality coordination between teams and departments, so that, for example, a patient with a broken hip can be treated successfully in moving from A&E, to a hospital ward, a rehabilitation facility, and primary, community and social care.

Her research programme aimed to deepen understanding of these linkages, identifying why care can sometimes break down and the range of approaches that might improve coordination.

Three streams of research

As an Improvement Science Fellow, Davina firstly used observations and interviews with health professionals to examine the nursing contribution to the coordination of care and the knowledge and skills underpinning this work.

The second stream of her research to ‘deepen understanding of the dependency relationships at critical interfaces’, using observations and interviews with health and social care professionals, patients and their families. It also looked at the coordination processes necessary to ensure quality care.

The third stream reviewed the literature on coordination in health care systems and identified how different approaches/interventions have their effects and the circumstances in which they are effective.

Achievements so far

Through her research, Davina is leading the development of new theory to explain the way nurses work within health care systems and the changes in the balance of their work from direct care-giving to organising, administrating and facilitating processes of care. It has great potential to influence the design of nurse training and future workforce planning.

Davina’s research has attracted international attention and her book, The Invisible Work of Hospital Nurses, has been described as ‘ground breaking’.

During her fellowship Davina led a range of improvement science activities, including establishing and leading a virtual network of improvement science researchers across Wales and mentoring Improvement Science Fellows Sonya Crow and Sharon Williams.