Specialised Foundation Programme (SFP) trainees
Academic Programme: Specialised Foundation Programme (academic) in Surgery
Research Field: Cardiothoracic Surgery
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? I have always enjoyed the scientific aspects of medicine and often asked the question ‘why?’ when clinical decisions were made. This led me to explore clinical and non-clinical research and exposed me to the incredible impact translational medicine can have on patient care. My academic post is aimed at exploring this further and setting the foundations for a career that aims to contribute to the bench to bedside application of scientific/technological innovations within cardiothoracic surgery.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? We often strive to fulfil the responsibilities that are expected of us and being an academic trainee means a certain expectation and responsibility to be clinically sound, whilst taking time out to do research, and take part in other activities such as medical education, leadership, and management. This framework of commitments provides a challenging yet stimulating and immensely rewarding experience that spearheads personal development. An experience that can provide a career that operates within a state of flow where challenge is met with the right level of acquired skill. This state of flow is what I enjoy about being a clinical academic trainee, and believe it is what ultimately breeds scientific and clinical progression.
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic? Start with what you enjoy and let this lead you to the right opportunities. If you enjoy a varied career with different commitments in research and/or education alongside being a doctor, then a clinical academic career may be for you. A specialised/academic foundation programme is one way to explore this further directly out of medical school.
Academic Programme: Specialised Foundation Programme (academic) in transplant and regeneration
Research Field: My research is focussing on modelling genetic disorders, in particular vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndromes, using inducible pluripotent stem cells. The overall aim is to understand disease mechanisms and aortic disease risk, and ultimately develop new treatments for the disorder.
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? I’d always been interested and involved with research as a medical student, and wanted to continue this as an academic foundation trainee. Being a clinical academic foundation trainee allows me to develop my clinical skills alongside protected time for research, and is great preparation for following an academic pathway as I progress through training.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? I enjoy the balance of clinical and academic work. My clinical work gives relevance to my research, whilst my academic work gives me time to reflect on clinical problems and strive to improve them.
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic? If you have an interest in research, don’t hesitate in applying for an academic training role. It gives you the opportunity to develop academic skills and work out if clinical academia is for you.
Academic Programme: Specialised Foundation Programme (academic) in Clinical Neuroscience
Research Field: Neuroimaging in dementia
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? Prior to medicine I was studying neuroscience at UCL and Cambridge which sparked my interest in research and set me on the trajectory of pursuing the path of an academic clinician. I’m particularly drawn to how academia complements clinic work by providing a higher purpose/goal to work towards.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? Although the research time during an SFP (academic) is relatively short, this protected period has been a golden opportunity to step away from clinical duties and reflect on research questions I want to pursue, initiate projects and develop my academic skills.
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic?
1) The academic route is difficult with many barriers to overcome. You won’t succeed on the first go every time, use these opportunities to learn and continue your pursuit.
2) Finding the right supervisor/mentor(s) is key. The ideal supervisor is someone who is accessible to you on a weekly basis, interested in your development and on an upward trajectory with opportunities you can latch on to.
3) Sooner or later you will have more opportunities than you can handle. Learn to say no.
4) Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket – many projects fail. Find success with multiple streams of research (eg original research, reviews, collaboratives, etc.).
5) Offer your skills and time to your colleagues to get exposure to new areas of research, build connections and gain co-authorship.
Dr Natalie Simon
Academic Programme: Specialised Foundation Programme trainee (academic) in Surgery
Research Field: Neurosurgery (Brain Tumour Imaging Laboratory, University of Cambridge)
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? In my career thus far, I have witnessed the suffering of patients diagnosed with high-grade brain tumours and the sheer devastation a diagnosis like this can bring upon patients and their families. I decided to pursue academic neurosurgery, in order to acquire the necessary research skills to help me investigate methods of improving patients’ quality of life and survival.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? I work in a very supportive environment with inspirational senior mentors. I am continually learning from my supervisors and gaining skills in various areas of research, pertinent to my study. Further, research allows us to contribute to evidence-based practice and, as academic clinicians, we are able to see changes first-hand.
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic? Be inspired by your patients.
Dr Melika Akhbari
Academic Programme: Specialised Foundation Programme in the Dept. of Paediatrics
Research Field: Paediatric Neuro-oncology
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? The possibility to contribute to the evolving impact and influence of translation of research findings into clinical practice is a great stimulus.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? The privilege of protected research time and opportunity to continue developing research literacy and skills is invaluable. Learning from the clinical research priorities that shape the academic landscape similarly reframes the competencies and best practices we strive towards as junior members of the healthcare workforce in training.
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic? I would encourage early research familiarity, seeking out projects and experiences to reinforce long-term motivation in the undergraduate setting and nurture confidence for progress at an early stage. Mentorship, engagement and advocacy at medical school can serve as an effective springboard into the physician-scientist training continuum!
Dr Binay Gurung
Former SFP traininee
Academic Programme: Specialised Foundation Programme (academic) in Surgery
Research Field: Patterns of tumour progression and recurrence in temporal lobe glioblastomas (Neurosurgery)
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? Having done a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree prior to starting medicine, I always had a strong interest in research. However, as a full-time clinician, it is very difficult to find enough time to do substantial research alongside clinical commitments. The SFP, and indeed any clinical academic post, offers allocated research time, which was very appealing to me.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? Clinical academic training allows a trainee to develop the breadth of clinical skills required to become a well-rounded junior doctor, alongside getting allocated time to pursue research in the area of their interest. At Cambridge, this is facilitated by the Clinical Academic Training Office (CATO) and there are opportunities to benefit from senior mentorship from researchers at both, the globally-renowned hospital (Cambridge University Hospital) and a world-class university (University of Cambridge).
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic? Research takes time and it’s a marathon rather than a sprint. Make sure you know the role is right for you. To do so you can talk to previous/current clinical trainees, early-career researchers, as well as established clinical academics. Once you have decided that it is the right job for you, in order to get the most out of the experience, approach principle investigators in the field of your interest, prior to starting the programme. Discuss with them the potential research projects/ideas that you could pursue during your time.
Since completing your clinical academic training, where has your career path led you? I am now a Junior Clinical Research Fellow in Orthopaedic Surgery (2021-22) at South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre, Epsom, United Kingdom
Clinical Lecturership (CL) trainees
Dr Poppy Aldam
NIHR Clinical Lecturer
Academic Programme: Clinical Lecturership in anaesthesia
Research Field: my research interest sits between anaesthesia and transplant surgery
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? I’ve always wanted to be the best that I can be – and as an anaesthetist that means to me that I want evidence and a rationale for everything I do. One day I asked one of our surgeons why a particular procedure had a specific complication – and he answered that no one really understood why. I know at that moment I wanted to understand the problem better and my research interest and subsequent PhD was born.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? I love working with the diverse and vibrant group of people I share an office space with. We all have different research interests and all have different strengths but we have a common goal- to take our research and translate it into better outcomes for patients.
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic? Pick a field that inspires you, and pick a project that you can’t imagine living without. Be tenacious and ambitious- it’s a tough path to follow but it’s also incredibly worthwhile.
NIHR Clinical Lecturer
Academic Programme: Clinical Lecturer in cancer research
Research Field: Prostate cancer: The early treatment of high risk prostate cancers using insights from cellular DNA damage response pathways.
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? I believe that we can deliver transformations in patient outcomes through the intersection of leading-edge scientific strategies with clinically-relevant patient-derived models and data. Surgical practise offers a privileged access to patients and bio-specimens that will generate real-world insights and the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of our cancer patients.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? As a surgical trainee, we get to experience holistic management across a cancer pathway, from diagnosis to definitive treatment. This lends itself very well to being able to ask (and hopefully answer) useful research questions. Striving to deliver the very best clinical care, alongside understanding the forefront of translational research, makes for a challenging but rewarding vocation.
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic? Speak to as many clinical academics as you can across disciplines, there is no one formula for navigating this path. Make sure you maintain your clinical training commitments, supported by clinical and academic mentors. And, be driven by curiosity and a passion for what you do.
Dr Simon Lambden
Former NIHR Clinical Lecturer
Academic Programme: Clinical Lecturership in Intensive Care Medicine
Research Field: Endothelial and Immune cell interactions in acute and chronic inflammatory disease/Early phase therapeutics development
Why did you decide to become a clinical academic trainee? I chose a clinical academic career after starting my training in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine in 2007. It became clear that there were so many unanswered questions about who, why and when we treat our patients. This led me to become interested in understanding better the pathophysiology of the syndromes that we most commonly manage in our clinical practice.
What do you most like about being a clinical academic trainee? I enjoy having the opportunity to explore in detail the fundamental principles of, and the treatments for the diseases which I routinely encounter in my clinical practice.
What advice would you give to an aspiring clinical academic? There is no one correct route to a successful clinical academic career, it is possible to conduct important, impactful and valuable research through any number of different pathways.
Since completing your clinical lectureship, where has your career path led you? Since completing my clinical academic training, I have continued to develop my interest in the validation of new disease targets and the development of new therapies. Over the last 3 years, I have combined clinical work with the pursuit of my research interests. During that time I have been part of teams that have secured substantial funding from a range of sources to identify and develop new drugs for the treatment of acute and chronic inflammatory disease through translational research, phase II and III clinical trials.