Who is a Clinical Academic?

A clinical academic is someone who is qualified and trained in both medicine and science. We spend our lives balancing direct clinical care, original scientific research, and teaching and training the next generation in varying proportions.

This balance differs enormously across individuals, and usually changes throughout a career. For some the ability to hide in a scientific laboratory and conduct original research unencumbered by administrative or bureaucratic responsibilities is the attraction. For others it’s the ability to go – both intellectually and practically in the course of a working day – from the bench to the bedside and back again. Still others will excel in clinical academic leadership and developing the next generation.

Every clinical academic has different motivations and enjoys different aspects of their work. But all are brought together by their tripartite commitment to clinical medicine, academic research plus teaching and training.

How do I become a Clinical Academic?

Becoming a clinical academic self-evidently requires some training in research. Most medical students will have been exposed to some aspects of clinical and perhaps pre-clinical (‘basic science’) research at medical school, perhaps through an intercalated degree or other undergraduate project.

This sort of experience is nothing more than a ‘taster’; but like clinical ‘tasters’ in Foundation, this sort of experience can be incredibly helpful in enthusing people and often seeding the very first idea that an academic career might be for them.

The academic component of clinical academic training consists of three stages:

The first ‘predoctoral’ stage consists of finding an interesting area of research and getting some early ‘taster’ experience of this area, perhaps acquiring preliminary data or even maybe publishing a paper or two. Undergraduate and Masters research projects and clinical research projects undertaken during early stages of training are common examples of this type of predoctoral work.

The second stage consists of undertaking a research degree (PhD or less commonly these days MD). The challenges include finding a great PhD supervisor, effective time and project management during the PhD, and successfully reintegrating into clinical training at the end of the PhD.

The third and final stage of clinical academic training is postdoctoral work, sometimes known as ‘clinician scientist training’. Often this involves moving away from the laboratory where you did your PhD, and sometimes overseas training.


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