January 3, 2021, by mszrm4

Clinical Academic Career pathways: It’s in the journey…


Our New Year’s Blog is written by Dr Helen Church, an Academic GP Trainee and Clinical Assistant Professor in Medical Education at University of Nottingham.

As a medical student, I thought that a linear clinical career pathway, progressing steadily from one training programme to another to reach the dizzying heights of consultant in a ‘race-to-the-top’ was not only the norm, but what was expected of a doctor. Similarly, as a clinical academic, surely the route to the top was similarly stream-lined and depends on following the NIHR pathway from start to finish? As I have taken my own meandering pathway through my own career, I have realised this not to be the case. I really value the experiences that I have gained along the way and I’ve been able to carve out my own individualised training programme.

At medical school I was an unconscious educationalist – I didn’t actually realise that all of my extra-curricular activities aligned with teaching and learning until it was suggested that I apply for an Academic Foundation Training Programme (ATFP) post. The AFTP provided me with my favourite training placement of my career to date – 4 months of teaching medical students, coupled with some short and enjoyable quality improvement projects. This stoked the flame for my future career pathway, although I’d know idea where it would eventually take me…

Following AFTP I completed core anaesthetics training (without any formal academic/educational component) and after some gruelling exams, I rewarded myself with a planned year off to undertake a Masters degree in Medical Education. My mentor from medical school advised me to consider a PhD instead. At this point I had no idea that PhD’s were even possible in medical education, let alone that I might complete one! However, a few short months later I appointed as a PhD candidate, and it was undoubtedly the best career decision I have ever made. I am still able to bore anyone to tears when they ask about my PhD work (a sign of my irritatingly unfaltering enthusiasm).

Post-PhD, I became a teaching fellow for 6 months whilst starting to publish my research and then was lucky to be appointed as an Academic Clinical Lecturer in Medical Education alongside my (new clinical career change to) General Practice training. This current role allows me time to work on medical education research (unsurprisingly, medical careers is my chosen field of interest currently), supervise budding medical education students, collaborate with other researchers and complete my clinical training. I’m enjoying every minute of it.

The pathway I have taken has not been linear in any sense and although I am naturally someone who likes a definitive plan, I would have missed out on so much had I not been open to opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

Remember that you can get involved with Medical Education at any stage of your career and you can dip in and out as you progress through training in a personalised way. By negotiating your own clinical academic pathway, you may stumble across something unexpected that you truly enjoy, whilst gaining qualifications, publications, learning experiences and meet some wonderful colleagues along the way. Embrace the meandering career pathway and remember, it’s in the journey.

Dr Helen Church, MBChB, PhD, FRCA, FHEA, AFAMEE

Clinical Assistant Professor in Medical Education at University of Nottingham

Academic GP trainee in the East Midlands

For more information on undertaking a PhD in Medical Education please see:

For more information on Academic Training:

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