Why would you want to be a clinical academic? Why is research so enticing for some? Does intellectual stimulation overcome potentially lower salaries and longer hours of harder work? Yes, for some, the possibility of making a difference to medical knowledge is provoking and stimulating. Clinical academia gives researchers the possibility to express their own unique characteristics and traits including creativity and communication skills, professionalism and humanism, excitement, perseverance and mental strength.
There are a variety of ways to get into research. It may start off as early as medical school, where one through an intercalated bachelor of science (BSc), a medical science degree (BMedSci) or MB/PhD programme integrates a period of research with clinical education. This gives medical students the opportunity to demonstrate interest and experience in a science at a very early stage in their career and helps them discover whether they have the necessary aptitude for research. The next possible routes into academia are either through academic foundation programmes or through academic specialist training where one obtains a combination of clinical experience and exposure to an academic and research environment. This then provides academic clinical fellows the possibility of securing funding for a PhD or MD, provided by Universities or Biomedical Research Units/Centres, or even the option of applying for a competitive training fellowship, such as those provided by the National Institute of Health Research, the Medical Research Council or Wellcome trust. After this stage, if committed to an academic pathway, one may apply for a clinical lectureship followed by a clinician scientist award or senior clinical lectureship. In addition, if not on an academic pathway, doctors may still decide to spend some time out of their speciality training and getting research experience; this potentially leading to a higher degree.
When applying for speciality training my intention was to pursue an academic career in Endocrinology, so when the opportunity arose in 2006 I jumped at the chance of obtaining a three year NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship. I succeeded in attaining this post at the University of Sheffield. My job over the three years included a nine month research phase in the Department of Human Metabolism where I was exposed to research programmes focusing on diagnostic and management strategies of patients with Cushings and on the development of novel formulations of glucocorticoid replacement therapy. With an aim to concentrate my efforts on the effects of glucocorticoids and sex steroids on bone, I extended my fellowship to include a year working as an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow in Bone Metabolism, in the Sheffield Bone Biomedical Research Unit and this has lead to me obtaining funding to perform a PhD.
Full-time clinical research has proved to be challenging and exciting. Achieving targets is extremely satisfying and an academic career is highly recommended.