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HEE/NIHR ICA programme: From clinician to clinical academic leader


Rebecca Kearney, NIHR Career Development Fellow

Date: 01 March 2018

I’ve always looked with envy at the linear pathways presented by NIHR for those embarking on a non-medical clinical academic career. As a Clinical Associate Professor with a research portfolio as Chief Investigator of approximately £3M underpinned by NIHR and musculoskeletal charity funding; Associate Director of Warwick Clinical Trials Unit and a national mentor to the Health Education England (HEE)/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic (ICA) scheme you could assume that I must have followed such a pathway, but mine has been a tale of twists and turns.

As a physiotherapist I existed in a world before the opportunities of the HEE/NIHR ICA programme. The non-medical clinical academic wasn’t a phrase I had heard of, but I had an interest in evidenced based practice and wanted to increase my understanding of what that meant. To achieve this I self-funded my MSc studies and was bitten by the research bug.

My MSc introduced me to the world of clinical academics, and I was fortunate to be supervised by one who was willing to support me through helping me to prepare a PhD funding application. This application was successful through Arthritis Research UK and provided me with the foundations of my research training. But I was a physiotherapist at my core and felt passionate about the value clinical academics bring to both NHS and Higher Education Institution (HEI) organisations, to ultimately design and deliver high quality research to improve the health of the nation.

In 2013 I was successful in obtaining a HEE/NIHR Clinical Lectureship. This was my first joint clinical academic appointment and a real turning point in my career trajectory. Up to this point I had spent some time working as a physiotherapist and some time working as a researcher, but had never had the opportunity to integrate the two into one post. This was my first step towards becoming an independent non-medical clinical academic. Without this funding stream, I would have had to choose between my research and clinical career, but I was not put in this position and I had my chance to justify my existence to the NHS and HEI employing organisations. I was the first non-medical clinical academic in my organisation to have this title and no-one knew exactly how this would work in practice, because we had never done it before!

In the period prior to my Clinical Lectureship, I had self funded and acquired charity funding to complete the basics of my research training. In this time, I had published a few articles, presented at conferences and obtained small pots of funding to develop research ideas. In the period during my Clinical Lectureship I successfully obtained NIHR Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) funding, was appointed onto national committees and successfully translated my small feasibility Clinical Lectureship project into a NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) funded multi centre RCT. This fellowship provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate to NHS and HEI organisations what could be achieved with non-medical clinical academic posts.

Towards the end of my Clinical Lectureship, I was promoted to Associate Professor and was successful in obtaining further NIHR Fellowship funding, through the Career Development Fellowship stream. This has led to further funding success with NIHR's HTA Programme. and NIHR's Efficacy Mechanism Evaluation (EME) Programme and a further promotion to Associate Director within Warwick Clinical Trials Unit. I do all this whilst maintaining my clinical commitments. Of course this is not all me, throughout my Clinical Lectureship I was in the right training environment, with the right people supporting and supervising me and introducing me to the right networks.

So how did I get here? I didn’t follow the linear non-medical clinical academic pathway, it has been a combination of self-funding, charity funding and multiple NIHR funding streams. My story has one key turning point - the point I gained the HEE/NIHR Clinical Lectureship, without that opportunity the rest would not have followed. 

The HEE/NIHR ICA programme Round 4 doctoral and post-doctoral scheme competitions opened on 1 March.  Applications remain open for the Clinical Lectureship and Senior Clinical Lectureship levels until 19 April 2018 and for the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship scheme until 27 April 2018.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.
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    Rebecca Kearney, NIHR Career Development Fellow explains how the ICA (Integrated Clinical Academic) programme helped change the course of her career in a positive way.
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    Rebecca Kearney, NIHR Career Development Fellow

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