A remarkable turnaround of opportunity for primary care academics

71adae95-6d80-451a-97d8-91fc72182e3cRichard Hobbs is Director at the National Institutes of Health Research (NIHR) School for Primary Care Research (SPCR), and Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford University in England

 

Structured academic training opportunities for clinical and non-clinical scientists is seen as a key deliverable by UK research funders. Each of the big national funders (MRC, Wellcome, NIHR) therefore have schemes for early career applicants on pre-doctoral, post-doctoral, more established researcher grades, and even at professorial level. There are differences between funders in what the schemes expect and what they offer (such as what topics are accepted, how long the fellowship operates for, what element of clinical work can be added, whether research funds are also provided, etc). However, there are broad similarities and most of the posts are open to applicants from basic science, from any clinical discipline, and from some methodological backgrounds. Primary care applicants are therefore eligible, which they weren’t for many schemes until the past decade, but competition is fierce. Generally, primary care candidates compete the best in the training posts supported by the most applied research funder, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).  Furthermore, the NIHR also offers academic versions of the final clinical specialty training posts.

All of this represents a remarkable turnaround of opportunity for primary care academics, who were more likely to develop their research and teaching skills ‘on the job’ and without any formal training until a little over a decade ago. There is even an NIHR scheme to attract such self-taught academics into more formal training, called an in-practice fellowship.

Supplementing these comprehensive schemes, which enable continuous fellowship funding for 20-25 years in sequential posts with rising seniority for the most competitive candidates, are training posts with many of the medical charities, where the project need to be relevant to the charity’s clinical interests. There are also a number of research (and education) annual training post competitions provided by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research (SPCR) that dove-tail with the national NIHR schemes. These include studentships for all-comers, and ‘launch clinical fellowships’ for clinicians who have completed their clinical training but need a little more time (1 or 2 years) to complete papers and work up strong protocols for their PhD. The NIHR SPCR further provides mentoring, research funding, and training for their fellowship candidates.

The Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences also runs a Leadership Programme in Primary Care Research, which aims to offer a two week residential taught programme (over 2 or 3 visits) of highly interactive small group sessions with leading primary care and other academics supporting an internationally diverse range of students and disciplinary backgrounds. The Oxford Leadership Programme is now in its 8th year and has hosted 11 different student cohorts, with 104 participants from 48 institutions and 15 countries.

Editor's note: This is the last in a series of 8 blogs about international collaboration in strengthening primary care research, ahead of the #SAPCASM2016 conference in Dublin, Ireland

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