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Case study: Dr Jessica Watson: Being an academic GP is the best job in the world

Anyone interested in beginning a career as an academic GP can apply for an NIHR ACF, which is a clinical specialty training post that incorporates academic training.

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Jessica answers our questions about her experience of being awarded an Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) and and how it has helped her career

Jessica’s first foray into research came in 2006 when she was one of the first cohorts of Academic Foundation Trainees.  Her current research focuses on tests called inflammatory markers, which detect inflammation in the blood but don't tell doctors what is causing it. She has used Primary Care Electronic Health Record data from the CPRD to determine the diagnostic utility of inflammatory markers for diseases including infections, autoimmune conditions and cancers.
She has also undertaken qualitative research, interviewing patients about their experience of blood testing to help improve communication between doctors and patients.

Why did you decide to apply for an ACF?

As an undergraduate medical student I intercalated in physiology and had the opportunity to undertake a research project. We measured people’s eye movements whilst playing on a driving simulator before and after drinking alcohol – the easiest study I've ever recruited to!

I followed this up with an Academic Foundation Programme and really enjoyed the variety and intellectual stimulation. After this I applied for an ACF because I wanted to do research that would help patients beyond my own consulting room.

How did you find the support you received from the NIHR?

Having protected time to undertake research alongside clinical practice is a privilege and a challenge. I have taken a longer route through training, and the ability to work flexibly has enabled me to combine career and family.  

Would you recommend others to apply for an ACF?

Absolutely! Being an academic GP is the best job in the world and combining clinical work as a practising GP alongside research is hugely rewarding. Seeing patients, teaching students and doing research is a juggling act, which makes for a hugely varied week, with lots of flexibility for family life. Understanding the challenges of general practice helps me to ask research questions, which matter to doctors and patients, and make a difference to clinical practice.

How has your NIHR award contributed to your career?

Following on from my ACF I was awarded an NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship, and I hope that a PhD will be a stepping stone into a combined academic–clinical career.