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An alternative career in medicine

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Dr Katie Petty-Saphon

Chief Executive, Medical Schools Council

Clinical academic doctors are working to ensure medical research remains innovative and cutting edge to improve patient care while also training the future medical workforce.

The career opportunities in academic medicine are now more varied than ever. Clinical academics are doctors who divide their time between treating patients, undertaking research and educating medical students. The decision to embark on a clinical academic career does not need to be made while still in the medical degree. There are various stages of training in which a career in clinical academia can be considered.

Early years

Intercalated degrees in medicine allow students to combine a regular medical degree with an additional year of studies in a related field. This might involve research or teaching, and typically revolves around a research project of the student’s choice. Students who intercalate will be awarded with both a medical degree and an additional degree, often a BSc or MSc, which opens up the possibility of later studying for a PhD. You can apply for intercalation during your medical degree.

Clinical academia is a flexible career path, with many different routes at various stages of the medical career.

After graduation, newly qualified doctors are required to complete two years of foundation training. The Academic Foundation Programme (AFP) offers the opportunity to gain experience in academic, teaching and leadership work.

Clinical academia is a flexible career path, with many different routes at various stages of the medical career that can allow you to explore your research interests. It is not necessary to enter academia after the AFP, nor is it necessary to take the AFP in order to enter academia. Equally, it is not necessary to have taken an intercalated medical degree in order to access the AFP or further academic posts.

Specialisation and beyond

After the completion of core training, there are several posts that allow doctors to combine speciality training with academic work. This includes academic clinical fellowships (ACFs), clinical lectureships, clinical scientists and MD/PhD training fellowships. There are also senior academic posts for eligible doctors who have completed their training (CCT) such as senior clinical lectureships and fellowships.

Institutions such as the National Institute for Health Research (England), NHS Scotland and Northern Ireland Medical & Dental Training Agency offer more detail on the requirements for these posts and how to apply.

The future of medicine

Medical research in the UK is world class. An example of this is the medical community’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite challenges, British researchers are leading the way for treatment and potential vaccines to combat the novel virus.

To ensure this innovation continues, we need to encourage and recruit more talented individuals into academia and there has never been a better time to become involved in academic medicine. However, this does not mean there is one right time. Many of the country’s leading clinical academics discovered their aptitude for research later in their careers. Becoming a doctor provides many opportunities to improve patient care and if you have the passion and aptitude for research, academic medicine may be worth exploring further.

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