This site is optimised for modern browsers. For the best experience, please use Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

The wonder of research

My career in research began when I was training as a haematologist in 1989. Wanting to learn how to take clinical observations into discovery science, I applied for and was awarded a post at Queen’s University in Canada. Funded by the Ontario Heart & Stroke Foundation, I conducted research in how the blood changes during acute illness such as sepsis.

Later in my career, when I had moved to the University of Liverpool and the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, my colleague in the lab – Colin Downey - discovered an unusual optical image in patients with sepsis. This led to us researching and finding a new and significant biomarker, which has led to patents and a spin-out company.

Research has certainly made me a better doctor and a better trainer, and I was very fortunate to have that opportunity. Now as part of my work as academic vice president at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) I’m trying to make sure all clinicians can participate in research if they want to.

Delivering Research for All

Our members tell us they want to be more involved in research, but they don’t have the time, and many don’t feel confident in their research skills. That is why the RCP has launched Delivering Research for All, calling for NHS trusts to enable time for all clinicians to take part in research and innovation. We are also developing a clinician researcher credential to support clinicians who haven’t taken a traditional research career path but want to become more involved.
The simple reason why we’re devoting so much energy to supporting research activity is because patients have better outcomes if they are cared for in a research-active hospital. And the more a hospital participates, the bigger the positive effect. Research activity also improves job satisfaction, which will help trusts tackle some of their challenges with recruitment and retention.

Getting involved in research

We’re making progress, but there is still a long way to go. 100% of trusts are now research active and the Care Quality Commission now takes research into account in their well-led inspection framework. But there are lots of places where research activity is still limited, especially in smaller rural hospitals.
Smaller trusts clearly face many pressing challenges, and this is not about chiding them for not conducting as much research as large university teaching hospitals. But rather it is about all parties coming together to consider how we – including government, NIHR, royal colleges and medical research charities - can provide equal opportunities for access to research, regardless of where you work or live.
If you or your trust would like to know how to be more involved in research, a good place for answers is the NIHR. They provide world-class resources and will have a research network in your area to support you. I also hope Delivering Research for All provides some useful practical tips for clinicians and trusts wanting to become more research-active.  
The RCP also wants to break some myths around research. It isn’t just about laboratory research - there are many different ways of advancing knowledge to achieve better patient outcomes. Acquiring research skills is also no different from acquiring other skills to help us do our jobs better as doctors. Taking small steps into the research pathway can lead to better job satisfaction for you and better outcomes for your patients. It is a win-win for all through research!

  • Professor Cheng-Hock Toh, Academic Vice President, Royal College of Physicians

More information on the NIHR’s Your Path in Research page is available on the NIHR website.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.