[Guest Post] How to Kickstart a Fulfilling Career in Medical Research

Dear Readers, Jun-Li very kindly requested for me to guest post here, so I thought I’d do a

short introduction followed by a succinct post on how to kickstart a career in medical

research. I usually manage and write semi-regularly over at www.UKdoctoronFIRE.com

which started out as a website to help doctors obtain the MRCP(UK) diploma but quickly

grew to encompass anything medical, with a strong emphasis on managing personal

finance. In terms of training I’m a respiratory ST6 currently doing out of programme

research (OOPR) in airways disease in Scotland.


Like with medicine itself, clinical research has many routes for entry. Those who are very

keen might have already dipped their toes in the pond at medical school. Those who

discover their interest later on might begin their research project well after attaining their

certificate of completion of training (CCT). There isn’t necessarily a rush either way because

the quality of research matters as much, if not more, as the quantity.


In my humble opinion the easiest way to get started with research as a medical student,

foundation, core or even higher specialist trainee would be to approach an academic

consultant or professor in your preferred specialty. Be upfront and explain your situation

and interest in certain projects but perhaps have an expectation that your first project and

publication might not necessarily align with your final career goals. Similar to clinical

training, we start off at FY1s in general medicine and general surgery but many of us end up

as GPs or radiologists for example. With research, regardless of whether you’re a medical

student or consultant in clinical work, we start out as FY1s again and a solid way of thinking

would be one in which you’re willing to participate in almost any project that your professor

gives you. Later on, after a few publications, you can start picking and choosing and perhaps

even bring new ideas to the table.



Although most large teaching hospitals are usually affiliated with a medical school, I’m

aware a lot of readers will be working in district general hospitals (DGH) which have their

own challenges. However, another way you can view this is that it actually allows you to

work very closely with your clinical consultants than otherwise would be possible in a large

teaching hospital. In turn, your consultants almost certainly would be able to get in touch

with academic consultants in your preferred specialty of choice. In the era of covid-19 and

remote working, a simple 30-minute Microsoft Teams or Zoom call would be a nice

introduction to get started with a potential project that could kickstart a serious academic

career.


With regards to applications for an academic foundation post, academic clinical fellowship

or OOPR experience during your registrar years, I don’t feel anyone should be discouraged

from applying even without any prior research experience. Along with the increasingly busy

clinical rotas and any free weekends and evenings spent juggling membership exams,

friends and family, there’s ample excuse for us to have prioritised our clinical training

especially earlier on in our careers. People who have intercalated or have a masters degree

may also be applying but the truth is that the majority of people and even those with

additional post-nominals may not necessarily have publications.


Before I finish off it might be useful for me to leave a few pointers for getting a publication.

Technically writing a paper and submitting this to journals can all be done independent of

location or clinical post, but anyone who has ever tried this understands how difficult it is to

muster the motivation to do so during the few precious hours away from clinical or studying

commitments.


Assuming your first project will be a retrospective study, then data collection will be the first

step. This is the step probably most medical students will be involved in and the type of data

you collect will depend on the question you’re trying to answer. In the event of a

prospective study or a clinical trial, data is obviously collected in real time.


Once all the data has been assimilated, statistical analysis can then occur. Statistical Product

and Service Solutions (SPSS) is the most widely used software package for data analysis but

the free software R (https://www.r-project.org/) which is more difficult to use is free to use.

There are numerous videos to learn about statistical analysis and one of the best resources

is Laerd Statistics (https://statistics.laerd.com/).



The penultimate stage is writing the manuscript and although most of us may be decent

writers having gone through the education system, medical or academic writing is a

different kettle of fish. This style of writing is very factual based and also specialty specific so

can only be learned by reading what others write in your field.


Finally, the manuscript can be submitted to the journal before the inevitable “dance” that is

the peer-review process in which the reviewers offer improvements to your manuscript

back and forth before the journal decides whether or not they’ll accept your paper.

 

Thank you very much to Rory from www.UKdoctoronFIRE.com for writing a guest article for us! I think this is great advice for junior doctors thinking of an academic career coming from a registrar involved in research and it has been insightful talking to Rory on the topic. Leave any comments or thoughts below!


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