As an undergraduate, Karen read philosophy and theology at Oxford University. After graduating in 1978, none of the usual career choices appealed and she went to work as a nursing auxiliary at St. Christopher's Hospice in London ‘...to think about the future, and do something useful at the same time’. The result was that she trained as a nurse, working in general medicine and surgery before returning as a qualified practitioner to palliative care. In 1988, Karen began working as a research sister/clinical nurse specialist in lymphoedema at Sir Michael Sobell House, Oxford. Here she gained a taste for research and completed an MSc in medical, social anthropology at Keele University in 1992. Following this, she was fortunate to be awarded a British Commonwealth Nurses War Memorial Fund Scholarship at Manchester University and used this to undertake a doctoral study into the experiences of families caring for a dying relative.
After obtaining her PhD in 1996, Karen remained in Manchester until 2001, working on a variety of research studies mainly in cancer and ophthalmology. The latter initially occurred by chance, but led to a new clinical interest which resulted in undertaking an ophthalmic nursing course in 1999 and developing a specialist role which included clinical, research and education components. In 2002, Karen returned to the field of palliative care as a lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire. She subsequently moved to Staffordshire University, first as Reader, then as Professor. At Staffordshire, her role included secondment to a local trust to work with clinical staff to develop nursing research capability and capacity. The start of 2006 saw Karen become freelance. She has set up a small business which includes running reflective seminars/retreats for healthcare workers, research consultancy, and editorial work for Blackwells. She is also involved in collaborative work with colleagues in the United States on a project about spirituality.