What is a clinical academic?

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A clinical academic is a qualified healthcare professional who also works in academia, typically in research, teaching, or both. They balance their time between treating patients, conducting research that contributes to the scientific understanding of their field, and training the next generation of clinicians. Every clinical academic post is different, depending on the specialism, experience, and interests of the individual.

Most clinical academics will work for two entities – the NHS and a university – and split their time variably between the two. Some will perform the research component of their role for private companies, such as those in the pharmaceutical industry. Many find that their dual role gives them greater career flexibility, and an exciting and varied workload. There is a huge array of clinical academic careers on offer across a diverse range of specialties, making every clinical academic post truly unique.

What clinical academics have in common is a passion for advancing our understanding of healthcare and driving new innovations in cutting-edge clinical practice. The research they carry out leads to safer and more effective evidence-based treatments for their patients, and their teaching improves the care future healthcare professionals provide to patients. The best way to understand the diversity of roles clinical academia has to offer is to look at this selection of case studies.

Routes into clinical academia

There are several formal structured pathways that can lead you to a clinical academic career. In England, for example, there is the HEE/NIHR Integrated Academic Training (IAT) programme for dentists and medics, and the HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme for nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, pharmacists and healthcare scientists. Similar structured schemes exist in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. You may also opt to follow a more ad hoc, informal route into clinical academia instead.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

It is important that a diverse community of researchers and educators are recruited into clinical academia to ensure a wide talent pool of aspiring academics. While progress has been made in recent years, inequalities in clinical academia still exist. Recently, researchers at Hull York Medical School and the University of Manchester concluded a study identifying the barriers and facilitators to equality in clinical academic careers and the interventions to address these, with a focus on gender inequality.