Clinical Academic Careers
‘I always fancied academic work and when the opportunity came up I didn’t need to think about it.’
'Having a good supervisor makes all the difference'
'Starting academic career gave me more flexibility, which is just what I needed with a young family’
‘Doing a clinical research lectureship gave me the opportunity to see the bigger picture and feel I was making a real impact to drug development advances’
‘I appreciated the chance to take a year away from the wards and feel refreshed and get some intellectual stimulation on my ACF year’.
Clinical academic medicine typically combines research, teaching and the treatment of patients. Every clinical academic post differs depending on the specialism, stages of training and the area of interest of the individual. Most clinical academics will split their time between a university and the NHS although some individuals will conduct the research component of their role for private companies such as pharmaceuticals. There are many types of clinical academic careers across a variety of specialties, making every clinical academic post truly unique. What clinical academics have in common is a desire for driving new innovations in cutting-edge clinical practice. The research they carry out leads to safer and more effective evidence-based treatments for their patients, and their teaching improves the care future healthcare professionals provide to patients.
In summary embarking on a clinical academic role can provide variety, intellectual stimulation, putting you ‘ahead’ when it comes to applying for future roles and, if you are successful, you can have a major impact on medical research.
See below for more information on what is a clinical academic career.
There are several formal structured pathways that can lead you to a clinical academic career. In England, for example, there is the HEE/NIHR Integrated Academic Training (IAT) programme for dentists and medics,. You may also opt to follow a more ad hoc, informal route into clinical academia instead.
The interactive link (CATCH) gives you detailed information on what is involved in a clinical academic role at each stage of your academic medical training and beyond
It is worth considering which skills/strengths you currently possess or may wish to develop for clinical academic roles sections. Skills and qualities needed for clinical academic careers can include the following:
- Technical, scientific and numerical skills
- Data collection and analysis skills
- Good written and oral communication skills for report writing and presenting findings
- Genuine enjoyment of the research subject
- Methodical approach to work with good planning skills
- Tenacity and patience when carrying out experiments
- Ability to work well in teams and to network and forge links with collaborators
- Problem-solving skills and analytical thinking
- Attention to detail.
Barriers and Enablers
‘Having a good supervisor makes all the difference’
‘The process of always looking for further funding can be dispiriting and lessen motivation for doing the research’
Your experience as a clinical academic can turn on a variety of factors and it is important to consider the key potential barriers/enablers to a fulfilling academic career
Some of the following Barriers and Enablers have been identified in the recent MRC report of early career clinical academics:
#Maintaining research activity
# Lack of support from host institution/supervisors
# Greater flexibility in clinical training model
# Greater availability of formal mentorships
# larger number/variation in clinical/academic job roles and training positions
Further detail can be found here:
You may also find the Skills & Strengths for clinical academic roles exercises and list of Critical Questions in the downloads section below useful to consider in weighing up the pros and cons of whether a clinical academic career will suit you.
More general career planning exercises pertaining to self awareness and decision making can be found here:
Funding sources depend on the level of research and the content of the study. Therefore, different funding streams are appropriate for different types of research.
Main sources of funding are the following:
Charities e.g. Cancer Research: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/funding-for- Grant schemes: researchershttps://acmedsci.ac.uk/grants-and-schemes/grant-schemes
National Institute of Health Research (NIHR): https://www.nihr.ac.uk/researchers/apply-for-funding/how-to-apply-for-project-funding/our-funding-programmes.htm
Medical Research Council (MRC): https://www.ukri.org/councils/mrc/
See Funding document in the downloads section below for additional sources of academic funding.
Doing research can be isolating and therefore it is important to build networks and share experiences with other researchers and clinicians.
The following webinar and links give valuable tips on developing your clinical academic network:
The following case studies and links give an insight into personal experiences of clinical researchers.
Here you will find case studies of doctors’ experiences at different stages of their career:
Clinical Academic – ST4 O&G
Jane is highly academic and ambitious in her career as an Obs and Gynae ST4. She is determined to not let family hold her back!
She has a PHD on big data which she completed 2 years ago during early specialty training when she went LTFT. Previously she did an ACF and Masters in Medical Stats.
She has just returned from maternity leave with her second child and is in the process of her first child being diagnosed as autistic.
She has three options:
- to come back to working at her local hospital and allied university. She doesn’t rate the academic department particularly highly but she knows the lecturers and a new senior lecturer has been appointed. A plus point is that the commute is less than 20 minute
- To wait for an academic lectureship at a prestigious university but there is no guarantee of her getting this and she might lose the current opportunity
- To move towns to a new but prestigious university far away where she would only need to attend one day a week to start with.
Through career coaching she managed to resolve the conflict between values of achievement and family by accepting the convenient first option, knowing she could always apply for a role at the prestigious university in the future. Her initial regret became acceptance and hopefulness for the future.
Clinical Academic – ST6 Urology
1. What made you choose an academic career to start with?
I like science, coming up with new scientific ideas and contributing to knowledge
2. What are the requirements for doing academic research?
Patience, perseverance, intellectual curiosity, drive to find out and discover
3. What are the advantages/disadvantages of being a clinical researcher?
- There is very little external motivation, you have to be self-motivated.
- You won’t get a bonus for doing well and you will have to wait a long time for results.
- Finding funding is not easy and competitive
- your lifetime earnings decrease as your pension starts later
- It’s slow paced and doesn’t suit faster paced people
- It can be hard to drop out once you’ve embarked on a research career.
- A way of refreshing yourself and removing yourself from the wards for a while;
- Intellectually stimulating;
- opportunity to see the bigger picture;
- If you are successful you can have a major impact;
- it can help you get a consultant position.
- (PHD goes in waves: sometimes it is necessary for doing higher level research but currently it is not. You just need GMC registration
- It can allow you to get sub-specialty training which is hard to get normally.
- If you do a PHD you can keep your hand in by doing clinics once a week.
- It can allow you more time before you have to decide on being a consultant
It can open new career paths through contacts – you could develop a portfolio career working for the NHS and doing research in pharma or tech companies.
You can pick up new skills: eg IT, research skills
Clinical Academic - Consultant
1.Who is your employer?
My main employer is the university and the salary is paid by them
My clinical work for the NHS is paid for by the NHS
2. What are the alternative ways of doing research
You can take time out from training to do a higher degree ie an OOPR
He did an MD and this is equivalent to a PHD
MD is only open to clinically qualified doctors
You can do research at any stage of training:
NIHR is the most common funding source: They pay your salary
There are different small amounts of funding available depending on the specialty
Some UK universities offer a programme for medical trainees
Individual deaneries have academic training opportunities
4. Why do clinical research?
I had an interest in an area
It can Put you ahead of the game when applying for consultant positions, sometimes.
5. Can you choose your own research project?
To choose your own research you need a track record and publications.
If you already have funding, you could approach a university to do your own research on the basis of interest
Do you need to teach as well as doing research?
Podcast by Marc Reid (non medical) on Imposter experience, as he likes to call it:
Examples, profiles of academic scientists:
Where to find a clinical research jobs?
Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) : Association of Medical Research Charities (amrc.org.uk)
Cancer Research: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/
British Heart Foundation (BHF): Research projects - BHF
Further resources & information for those who want to explore the topic in more depth
Starting point, explanation of different clinical roles/pathways, resources, suggestions etc: https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/clinical-academic-careers
Overview of clinical scientists in different specialities : https://www.bmj.com/careers/article/the-complete-guide-to-becoming-a-clinical-scientist
Gilly Freedman & Mourijn Bok [NHSE London KSS Careers Consultants]