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NHSE/NIHR Doctoral Clinical Practitioner and Academic Fellowship (DCAF) Round 2 Chair's Report


Published: 09 July 2023

Version: Final

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The Doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (DACF) scheme constitutes the doctoral tier of the NHSE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme and exists to support future clinical academic leaders with immediate aspirations for PhD study. The DCAF scheme, which is a successor to the Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship (CDRF), is a bi-annual two-rounds competition which launches in April and September. The first round of the DCAF competition launched in April 2022.

The scheme is open to all clinical professions (excluding doctors and dentists). These include, but not limited to, Allied health professions, non-medical public health, nursing and midwifery, pharmacy, social work and dental-related professions registered with the ICA Approved Regulatory Bodies. For a full list of participating professions, please read Annex A further on in this Chair's Report.

This document captures the key observations of the chairing team of the DCAF scheme’s second round competition launched on 15th September 2022, and for which interviews were held between 18th and 19th April 2023. The chairing team comprises the Chair, two co-chairs and three deputies.

Key Facts of the DCAF Round 2 competition

The total number of applications received for this round was sixteen, and all were deemed eligible for consideration. The Selection Committee shortlisted 15 applicants, of which 14 attended the interview with one withdrawn. Six applicants were deemed by the Selection Committee to lie within the fundable range. This represents a 38% success rate. The following table is a summary of the DCAF Round 2 applications and awards:

Applied 16
Interviewed 14
Awarded 6
Success rate 38%

While the number of applications for this round is lower than the previous round which saw 49 applications, the success rate remains broadly similar with 37% compared to this round with 38%. A good number (6) of the applications came from nurses, followed by 2 from healthcare scientists, 2 from physiotherapists, and with an applicant each from midwifery, a practitioner psychologist, a pharmacist, a speech and language therapist, a music therapist and a non-medical public health specialist. For a full list of participating professions during this round under review, please go to annex A further on in this Chair's Report.

Regional participation in this Round of the DCAF Scheme shows a high number of applications from London (6), followed by South Central with 3 and one each from the East Midlands, East of England, Northeast and Yorkshire and the Humber.

With regards the progression of applicants from previous NIHR awards, as usual, Round 2 of the DCAF competition witnessed an increased number of applications from previous NIHR awardees of the PCAF scheme; 6 of the of 16 applications received came from previous NIHR PCAF awardees. All but one was shortlisted and interviewed, with 3 successful and therefore among the 6 recommended for funding. In other words, almost half of the recommended applicants for funding came from previous HEE/NIHR ICA PCAF awardees.

Selection Committee

The DCAF scheme, like all personal awards run by the NIHR, is managed through a selection committee that is comprised of experienced and well-established academics in the relevant fields covered by the scheme and drawn from across the United Kingdom.

These are joined by a number of experienced members of the public, known as Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) members, who together undertake the assessment of applications and interview of applicants. Round 2 of the DCAF scheme involved a total of 18 academic and 4 PPI members. Given the lower number of applications in this round compared to Round 1, the selection committee which presently consists of three chairs was reconstituted into two interview panels.

The Chairs’ Observations

The chairing team of the DCAF Scheme observed the following during Round 2 of the DCAF competition.

  1. The scheme continues to attract good quality applications with very relevant research proposals and a strong research background among the applicants. However, the panel felt that the standard in this round was lower than in previous rounds. There was, for example, a noticeable lack of sufficient detail to justify the relevance and potential impact of some of the studies proposed. We would encourage candidates to be more ambitious in their choice of methodology and research plans. Many were described by panel members as 'safe' options.
  2. Presentations were generally of a high standard, including excellent slides and were well-paced. While most candidates stuck to time in their presentations, there is a need for greater awareness to timing when responding to interview questions. The interview, it must be emphasised, is a major opportunity to provide additional details, demonstrate clarity of purpose, and acknowledge areas for improvements.
  3. There were improvements in the consideration of the clinical aspects of the award, but this still needs attention in some applications particularly given this is a clinical academic award. The Selection Committee examines the practitioner aspects of this award as well as the research proposals and expect to see progression in this aspect as well.
  4. Concerns continue to be raised over an increasing number of applications with weak PPI involvement and engagement strategy. For many, the Selection Committee had the impression that PPI had not been actively involved at key stages of the research design. This was reflected in the lack of adequate costing for PPI involvement as well as limited engagement and participation in decision making. Candidates are encouraged to involve more people for more time as long as such involvement is justified, and effective: this must be reflected in costings.
  5. There was some concern over supervision arrangements. Ensuring an appropriate mix of supervisors is important; there should ideally be a combination of skill mix and expertise, and a track record of supervising PhD students to completion. This could involve seeking supervisors from different institutions. However, more thoughts as to how supervision will work in real terms needs to be considered and particularly where there is a geographical spread. Applicants should be in  position to demonstrate in their application and interview a concrete plan of how supervision will be managed in practice.
  6. Training plans in this round were much improved but candidates still need to clearly justify this in relation to their own PhD proposal/clinical expertise. Candidates are encouraged to seek out the most appropriate training course,  opportunities, supervisors, and mentors to support their fellowship. This may be outside their region if feasible, although this should also be carefully justified.

Other General Observations

Support from the NIHR Research Design Service (RDS)

Applicants need to be aware and take advantage of NIHR Research Design Services across the country. RDS staff are experienced and sometimes observe Selection Committee meetings and they are well placed to provide advice and helpful feedback on applications prior to submission.

Plain English Summaries

The Plain English summary submitted is part of the application assessment process undertaken by the Selection Committee. If the summary does not provide a clear explanation of the proposed research to clinicians and researchers who do not have specialist knowledge of your field, as well as to members of the public, this will impact on the competitiveness of the application. Applicants are advised to use the support available from the Research Design Service in the development of their Plain English summaries.

Frequent weaknesses in the Plain English Summaries include:

  • poor structure with large blocks of text and a lack of headings
  • poor explanations of terminology, and
  • too many unexplained acronyms.

The cost of the project, including any NHS support and treatment costs

Applicants are required to provide fully-costed application. While costs can be amended with the support of the NIHR during the subsequent contracting process, they are noted by the Selection Committee during assessment. Poorly-costed plans,  particularly if relating to NHS support and treatment costs or PPI, can give a negative impression to the Selection Committee.

The need for strong statements of support from the hosting organisations

The supporting statement submitted by an applicant’s proposed hosting organisation is an important part of the application process. Sometimes supporting statements that are weak and generic which fail to convey a reassuring level of support for, and understanding of, the proposal and the aspirations of the applicant can undermine the competitiveness of the application.

Strong supporting statements convey a deeper insight into the candidate’s professional aspirations, an understanding of the benefits of the proposal to the organisation and the extent to which the organisation may be prepared to support the  candidate’s professional aspirations. This is one aspect considered closely by the Selection Committee who fully expect these statements to clearly articulate an ongoing and post-award commitment to the applicant’s academic career.

Using training awards to plug skills gaps in your career

Applicants to research training awards are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to gain experience in key areas that will improve their clinical and academic development such as methodologies, and new clinical approaches that they have not used previously.

The training plan should incorporate sufficient support and training to ensure expertise will be demonstrable at the end of the award as they commence the next step towards being an independent researcher.

Whether to propose a part-time or full-time award

There is a tendency for applicants to propose part-time awards in order to continue within their existing clinical posts. These awards all contain protected clinical elements, and so it is not necessary for applicants to make such a concession in order to maintain professional practice.

Applicants proposing a part-time award purely to undertake additional clinical activity should consider the potential impact of this on their academic career trajectory, although they may have justifiable reasons why they would want such an arrangement. This is not, obviously, a consideration that individuals proposing a part-time award for any other reason are expected to make. Applicants who, for personal reasons, already work part-time (or, indeed, anticipate working part-time in the near future) are more than welcome to propose a part-time award.

The need for advanced planning and proposal development

It usually takes between 6 months and a year to develop a competitive application. Successful proposals have at the very least, been under development for a couple of months prior to the competition launch, during which time they have enjoyed the support of the supervisory team members, prospective host organisations, clinical supervisors, and mentors.

Annex A

Round 1 DCAF Application and success rates of professions

If in doubt of whether you profession is eligible for the DCAF, please email us. 

AHP Professions:
Art Therapist 0 0 0 0
Podiatrist 0 0 0 0
Dietician 0 0 0 0
Occupational Therapist 0 0 0 0
Orthoptist 0 0 0 0
Prosthetist/Orthotist  0 0 0 0
Paramedic  0 0 0 0
Physiotherapist 2 2 0 0
Radiographer (diagnostic & therapeutic)  0 0 0 0
Speech and language therapist 1 1 0 1
Drama therapist 0 0 0 0
Music therapist 1 1 0 1
Osteopath 0 0 0 0
Chiropractor 0 0 0 0
Practitioner Psychologist 1 1 0 0
Healthcare Scientists 2 2 0 1
Non-Medical Public Health Specialty Trainees, Specialists and Consultants 1 1 0 0
Nurse and Midwife    
Nurse  6 6 0 3
Midwife 1 1 1 0
Operating Department Practitioner 0 0 0 0
Optometrist and Dispensing Optician 0 0 0 0
Pharmacy Professions:    
Pharmacist 1 1 0 0
Pharmacy technician 0 0 0 0
Social Worker 0 0 0 0
Wider Dental Team Professions:    
Dental hygienist 0 0 0 0
Dental nurse 0 0 0 0
Dental therapist 0 0 0 0
Total 16 16 1 6

Annex B

Regional Participation in the DCAF Scheme

Round 2




East MidlandsEast of EnglandLondonNortheastNorthwestSouth CentralSoutheast CoastSouthwestWest MidlandsYorkshire and the Humber
Eligible Applicants 16 1 1 8 1 0 4 0 0 0 1
Shortlisted 15 1 1 7 1 0 4 0 0 0 1
Interviewed 14 1 1 7 1 0 3 0 0 0 1
Recommended for funding by the selection committee   6 0 0 3 1 0 2 0 0 0 1
% Success Rate (Per Applicant) 38% - - 19% 6% - 13% - - - -

Useful Resources

The Selection Committees have identified a variety of resources that prospective applicants might find useful in relation to some of the weaknesses identified above.

Please also see the following studies and guidance.