General practice academic careers

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What is a clinical academic GP?

A clinical academic GP is a GP who conducts academic work alongside their clinical duties. Academic work may include some teaching, but the advice on this page focuses specifically on careers with a greater emphasis upon research. More information about careers in medical education can be found under Education and Teaching.

What type of research do academic GPs do?

Clinical academic GPs carry out research which covers the full range of work in general practice. Some academic GPs focus upon clinical research. This might include disease-specific research (for example research into diabetes or asthma), or it might include more general topics such as frailty, aging or multimorbidity. Others do research which focuses upon the way services are organised, researching things like continuity of care, access to services or health inequalities.

Research in general practice is cross-disciplinary. This means that researchers use all sorts of approaches, from clinical trials to social science and everything in between, using both numerical (quantitative) and non-numerical (qualitative) methods. Clinical academic GPs work alongside highly qualified non-clinical researchers with a wide variety of backgrounds. GPs often work with secondary care academics, providing much needed primary care expertise to these studies, and to the full primary care clinical team.

What does a typical academic role involve?

The core aim of an academic research job is to design research projects, bring in money to support them, lead the projects and write up the results as reports and academic papers. A typical clinical academic professor will lead a team of researchers, manage projects, supervise PhD students and engage with national and international colleagues to set the research agenda in their field. This might involve serving on funding panels, NICE guideline groups or Royal College working groups. As you develop your academic career you become known for a particular area of research and take on more roles as your research evolves. Clinical academics get the chance to shape the way that care is delivered at a national or even international scale, and it can be very rewarding, although it is also very demanding.

What qualifications do you need for a clinical academic role?

It is important to understand that research involves a whole new set of skills in addition to those taught at medical school. Whilst your medical school experience gives you a good grounding in things like critical appraisal of research, there are many things which are not taught at medical school which you will need to learn. For most people this starts with a Master’s degree in research methods. Some people will have intercalated whilst at medical school, and may already have an additional qualification. In terms of getting into research, what matters is how much training you have in research methods. Some intercalated degrees contain a significant amount of training in research methods, while others do not, so exactly what additional training you need will depend upon what you have done before.

A Master’s degree in research methods can often be done part time and as online courses. They provide a thorough grounding in a wide variety of research methods, and are invaluable as a first step. Once you have a Master’s degree, you will then need to do a PhD. A PhD take 3 years (or up to 6 years part time) and involves carrying out your own supervised research project.

Once you have a PhD there are a range of possible job opportunities, including NIHR Clinical Lectureships. These involve working 50/50 in academic work and general practice, and can be the stepping stone into a permanent academic career.

It is important to note that it is never too late to enter a career in academic general practice, irrespective of your career stage. Experienced GPs can often make excellent clinical academics.

How can I get started as a clinical academic?

The route into academic GP training varies across the four nations of the UK. Opportunities for qualified GPs are also available such as in-practice fellowships and career progression fellowships

How else can I get involved in research in general practice?

You don’t have to be a clinical academic GP to get involved in research in general practice. GPs can get involved with delivery of research as part of a portfolio career. Attending a conference such as the Society for Academic Primary Care, Royal College of General Practitioners or World Family Doctors conferences or contacting your local Clinical Research Network can be a good way to get started. Further advice can be found in the resources list below.