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Using a clinical academic career to keep patients at the forefront of my work

Published: 04 October 2020

Professor Dave Jones is Dean for the NIHR Academy. In his blog he talks about his path in research, why research careers are important as well as the career support, guidance and opportunities the NIHR provides. His blog has been published as part of the Your Path in Research campaign.

“What motivates clinical academics is their inability to treat their patients.”

This is something one of my early career mentors told me and is something I will always remember.

Reflecting on the 30-plus years I’ve been working as a clinician in liver medicine this is something I can absolutely relate to. A career in research hadn’t really entered my mind until I experienced the frustrations and limitations of the care we were able to provide to our patients at that time.

I’ve since been fortunate to see, be involved in, and lead many research studies and projects. Without these experiences and understanding of diseases it brings, you can’t improve treatments and care to give your patients the best possible experience.

Research is all about the people. You have to keep patients at the forefront of your work, by engaging with them throughout. You also have peers and mentors, those you go to for advice and ask questions. There are also organisations and industry partners that without their help we can’t turn research into better outcomes for patients.

My current role

Now, in my role as Dean for the NIHR Academy I get to work with lots of different people including researchers, the NHS, universities and other research funders to help represent the views of researchers and ensure their career development needs are met.

A large part of my role is supporting researchers, and as such I frequently get asked for advice or support. The two things I will always say to anyone considering, or already working in research is:

  1. Don’t be scared. You have to try things to know if they work or not, and it's ok for ideas to turn out to be wrong. We learn from failure and it helps us push boundaries and develop the advancements in care and treatments we need to see. That is the nature of science
  2. Don’t be shy. Go out and build a network and seek out people who work in different areas to you. It will often be the case that it is a learning and expertise sharing experience for both parties.

Covid-19 putting the spotlight on research

Turn the clocks back to the beginning of the year and I would have found it hard to believe that almost overnight, more than 1,500 clinical academic trainees would have returned to full-time front-line clinical roles. That’s over 90% of those on the NIHR Integrated Academic Training pathway, putting their own research, and careers, on hold to respond to the pandemic. But that is exactly what happened and many other researchers saw their research paused and move to roles working on Covid-19 urgent public health studies.

The pandemic is an unprecedented health and care challenge and it is clear that clinical academics, and the research system as a whole, has risen to the challenge admirably. It has also shown that robust health research, and those that lead it, is essential for society. Science has, and will, continue to shape the country’s response to not only this pandemic, but future key health issues. Ensuring the pipeline of talented clinical academics to be health research leaders now and in the future, has never been so critical.

The NIHR’s role in developing clinical academic careers

Since the NIHR was introduced in 2006, the link between clinical and academic work has continued to grow. By introducing a range of training, support and other opportunities, the NIHR provides a very clear path for health and care professionals from any background to pursue a career in research whilst continuing to deliver on their clinical or practice role.

Importantly, we have expanded this into areas including public health and social care to ensure that research continues to take place where it is needed to answer and provide solutions to real-world situations and problems.

It is also important that we continue to innovate with our offer for health and care researchers and those wanting to get involved in research. Something I’ve been involved in recently is the introduction of NIHR Incubators. These are virtual networks, providing high-level and targeted career development support where there is a need to increase capacity.

It is with innovations like this that the NIHR will continue to adapt to attract and meet the future needs of researchers.

Professor Dave Jones, Dean for the NIHR Academy

You can read about the experiences of researchers and how you can get involved in research as part of the Your Path in Research campaign. You can also find out more information about developing a clinical academic career with NIHR Academy.

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