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Round 3 Chairs' Report for NHSE/NIHR Doctoral Clinical Practitioner and Academic Fellowship (DCAF)


Published: 08 February 2024

Version: Version 1 - February 2024

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The Doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (DCAF) scheme constitutes the doctoral tier of the NHS England (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 clinical/practitioner professions (excluding doctors and dentists). These include but is not limited to Allied Health Professionals (AHPs), non-medical public health, nursing and midwifery, pharmacy, social work and dental-related professionals registered with the ICA Approved Regulatory Bodies. For a full list of participating professions please go to Annex A.

This document captures the key observations of the chairing team  of the DCAF scheme’s third round competition launched on 6th April 2023 and for which interviews were held between 1st and 2nd November 2023.

Key Facts of the DCAF Round 3

Thirty-eight (38) applications were received for this round with thirty-seven (37) deemed eligible for consideration. The Selection Committee shortlisted twenty-eighty (28) applicants and all attended the interview held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Leeds. Twenty applicants (20) were deemed by the Selection Committee to lie within the fundable range; a fifty-four percent (54%) success rate.

DCAF Round 3OverallPrevious NIHR Pre-docs
Applied 38 (37 eligible) 17
Interviewed 28 14
Awarded 20 12
Success rate 54% 60%

The chairing team comprises the Chair, two co-chairs and three deputies.

The number of applications in this round doubled that of the previous round 2 which attracted a total of sixteen (16) applications, although the first round received much higher numbers of application; forty-nine (49) in total. However, despite the success rate remaining broadly similar with 37% and 38% for the previous two rounds, this current round is an improvement to previous rounds with 54%.

A good number of the applications came from the following professions; physiotherapists (11) followed by healthcare scientists (6), and nurses (6). The scheme also attracted applications from dieticians (4) midwifery (2), practitioner psychologist (3), pharmacist (2), speech and language therapists (2), and radiographers (2).

Round 3 DCAF Application and success rates of professions

AHP ProfessionsAppliedShortlistedWithdrewRecommended
Art therapist 0 0 0 0
Podiatrist 0 0 0 0
Dietician 4 4 0 3
Occupational therapist 0 0 0 0
Orthoptist 0 0 0 0
Prosthetist/Orthotist 0 0 0 0
Paramedic 0 0 0 0
Physiotherapist 11 7 0 5
Radiographer (diagnostic & therapeutic) 2 1 0 1
Speech and language therapist 2 2 0 2
Drama therapist 0 0 0 0
Music therapist 0 0 0 0
Osteopath 0 0 0 0
Chiropractor 0 0 0 0
Practitioner Psychologist 3 3 0 2
Healthcare Scientists 5 4 0 3
Non-Medical Public Health Specialty
Trainees, Specialists and Consultants
0 0 0 0

Nurse and midwifeAppliedShortlistedWithdrewRecommended
Nurse 6 5 0 3
Midwife 2 1 0 1
Operating department practitioner 0 0 0 0
Optometrist and Dispensing Optician 0 0 0 0

Pharmacy professionsAppliedShortlistedWithdrewRecommended
Pharmacist 2 1 0 0
Pharmacy technician 0 0 0 0
Social worker 0 0 0 0

Wider dental team professionsAppliedShortlistedWithdrewRecommended
Dental hygienist 0 0 0 0
Dental nurse 0 0 0 0
Dental therapist 0 0 0 0

If in doubt of whether your profession is eligible for the DCA. For any ICA schemes, please email

Regional participation in this Round (3) of the DCAF Scheme shows a high number of applications from London (15), followed by the East Midlands (7), Yorkshire and the Humbers (5), South Central and Southwest with (3) each, and 1 each from the Northwest, East of England, Southeast Coast and West Midlands.

As usual, this round received a number of applications from previous NIHR awards particularly a progression from the Masters in Clinical Research and the successor scheme, the Pre-doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (PCAF). Out of a total of thirty-seven applications considered in this round, seventeen (17) applications (46%) were from previous pre-doctoral NIHR award holders, of which fourteen were shortlisted for interview and twelve recommended for funding. In other words, sixty percent (60%) of successful candidates in this round came from previous NIHR pre-doctoral level awardees.

Selection Committee

The DCAF scheme, like all personal awards managed by the NIHR, is assessed by 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 3 of the DCAF scheme involved a total of twenty-four (24) academic and six (6) PPI members. Find out more about the DCAF selection committee.

The Chairs’ observations

The chairing team of the DCAF Scheme observed the following during Round 3 of the DCAF Competition:

  1. The committee noted and welcomed the improvement overall in Patient and Public involvement (PPI) and engagement by the majority of candidates. However, there is still a need for careful costing to reflect this involvement. Candidates are encouraged to involve more people from diverse background for more time as long as such involvement is justified, and effective: this must be reflected in the application including the PPI costings.
  2. Given that this is a clinical/practitioner academic award, candidates should not neglect this aspect. Thought must be provided to upskilling clinically or in their practitioner roles during the award.
  3. Candidates should be aspirational in their choice of courses and potential visits. While costs are important, the committee welcome ambitious training plans with robust justification. Proposed training should be linked to the research study and career development.
  4. It was excellent to observe that the vast majority of candidates adhered to the five minutes allocated to the presentation at interview. Presentations were generally of a high standard, including excellent slides and were well-paced.
  5. There was a wide range of topic areas chosen and this was excellent. However, there is a greater need for candidates to consider issues around social determinants and inclusion broadly.
  6. The scheme is generous, but the committee is mindful to ensure value for money and expect budgets to be carefully costed. We would not expect to pay for software such as SPSS or for facilities normally provided by a host or partner institution.
  7. Candidates are reminded that there is not a formula for success (such as having three work packages) and that mixed methods studies should not be confused with studies using multiple research methodologies.

Other General Observations

Support from the NIHR Research Support Service (RSS)

Applicants need to be aware and take advantage of NIHR Research Support Services (RSS) across the country. RSS staff are experienced and sometimes observe Selection Committee meetings and they are well placed to provide free and confidential 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 Support 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
  • Too many unexplained acronyms

Further guidance on writing in plain English is available on the NIHR website.

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 research 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 steps 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 should have had the support of their supervisory team members, prospective host organisations, clinical supervisors, and mentors.

Annex A

Regional Participation in the DCAF Scheme

Round 3Eligible ApplicantsShortlistedInterviewedRecommended
for funding by
% Success Rate
(Per Applicant)
Total 37 28 28 20 54%
East Midlands 7 6 6 3 7.89%
East of England 1 0 0 0 -
London 15 12 12 8 21%
Northeast 0 0 0 0 -
Northwest 2 0 0 0 -
3 2 2 2 5%
Southeast Coast 1 1 1 1 2.36%
Southwest 3 2 2 1 2.63%
West Midlands 1 1 1 1 2.63%
Yorkshire and the Humber 5 4 4 4 10.53%

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.

NIHR Nursing and Midwifery

Discover opportunities for nurses and midwifes at the NIHR.

Nursing and Midwifery incubator

This NIHR-funded incubator supports potential applicants from the nursing and midwifery professions to submit competitive applications.

Mixed Methods Study Designs

Prospective applicants are advised to consider advice on the Oxford Academic website, and particularly the 10 resources highlighted within it.

NIHR Clinical Trials Guide

The NIHR has produced a Clinical Trials Guide and recommends that prospective applicants intending to propose a trial consult it at the earliest opportunity.

NIHR Guidance on Applying for Feasibility Studies

Find out about guidance on applying for feasibility studies. See also: Whitehead AL, Sully BG, Campbell MJ. Pilot and feasibility studies: is there a difference from each other and from a randomised controlled trial? Contemp Clin Trials. 2014 May; 38(1): 130-3. DOI

MRC Guidance on the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions

This study has updated the MRC's framework in the light of developments in complex intervention research since 2006, adopting a pluralist approach and encouraging the consideration and use of diverse research perspectives.

Patient Reported Outcomes

The University of Birmingham’s Centre for Patient Reported Outcomes Research has a freely available NIHR funded information resource on PROs of potential use to prospective applicants, and more broadly, to those involved in PROs.