Published: 26 January 2024
Professor Waljit Dhillo, Dean of NIHR Academy, discusses NIHR's plans to ensure there are career paths for researchers from all backgrounds and professions.
The UK is world-leading in producing research outcomes that have a positive impact on patients. Yet, there are many areas we need to improve to encourage more people to begin their journey into research careers.
If we want to attract more people into research, we need to ensure it is open to everyone. Despite recent improvements, there is still more we can do. My role as the Dean of the NIHR Academy is to attract, train and support the best health and care researchers to tackle the challenges of the future.
Early exposure to research
A lot has changed in how clinical academic careers are supported at NIHR since my early days as an NIHR Clinician Scientist. A key gap we’re working to overcome is equality of opportunity. We're working to ensure there are career paths for researchers from all backgrounds and professions.
Nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and other registered health professionals, public health and social care practitioner academics, are just some of the professions we want to attract into research.
Some of the variety of work we have undertaken in a bid to address the gap includes:
- expanding our portfolio of career support for health and social care professionals. This support ranges from undergraduate students through to post-doctoral researchers
- launching a new INSIGHT scheme. This will give students an insight into research careers in health care, social work and public health
- creating a new pre-application support fund to help underrepresented professions and groups to make the next step in their research career
NIHR is also investing an additional £30 million a year to increase research opportunities. This will enable more healthcare professionals (HCPs) across England to develop as skilled researchers and leaders. This funding will help a wide range of HCPs across England, including nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, pharmacists and healthcare scientists.
These changes will impact the whole of NIHR and the wider research ecosystem. It will help us to increase the talent pipeline of progressing through NIHR research programmes and leadership roles both in numbers and diversity.
Barriers to entry into academic careers
Even where we have established clinical academic pathways such as in medicine and dentistry, we need to do more to ensure a research career is one that is within realistic reach of those who are passionate about whichever background they are from. We need to spread opportunity and raise awareness across the UK and strengthen areas where disease burden is the greatest but also ensure we maintain high quality research which will benefit our patients.
We need to ensure we are supporting clinical academic careers in all NHS trusts and universities as this is what our patients deserve and need to improve their health outcomes. We want to attract a workforce that is reflective of our population. This leads to more accessible research opportunities, better quality data and improved health outcomes.
Embracing a complex landscape
There are complex challenges facing the health and care sector currently. We can only tackle these with a multi-professional approach to research. The skills and experience our research workforce bring to frontline clinical care and emergency medicine in the NHS is vital. We must continue to push this forward across the wider health and social care system.
We want to make sure competitive research opportunities are available to all regardless of profession, geography or socioeconomic background. Only by seeking out those who question, debate and reflect on current practice and provide them with support throughout their career, can we truly bring innovation across our health, social care and public health system.
It’s a huge privilege to serve the academic community and shape the training of the next generation of NIHR academics. With the NIHR Academy I look forward to helping as many people as possible become future research leaders.