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There are many routes to a clinical academic career. You might follow a structured pathway, taking advantage of the academic training appointments offered by the Foundation Programme and the National Institute for Health Research. Or you might carve your own path, taking up a fellowship, perhaps supported by a research council or charity, to complete a higher degree. No route needs to be followed rigidly and it is common — indeed desirable ― to take advantage of all opportunities available to you.
The academic foundation programme provides opportunities for newly qualified doctors to develop skills in research, teaching and management, alongside achieving the clinical competencies required for the completion of foundation training.
The posts typically involve four months of dedicated academic time in the second (F2) year of the programme. How this is allocated will vary by post. It may, for example, take the form of a four-month block or day release over the course of the year. The academic component is usually coordinated by a partner university, such as St George’s, and it might involve, for example, designing or conducting a small research project, developing teaching materials, or performing a quality improvement project.
Undertaking an academic foundation post is not a prerequisite for an academic career, but it provides an ideal platform from which to gain relevant experience and achievements that may be a springboard to future academic posts.
Academic clinical fellow (ACF) posts are usually aligned with internal medicine training or early specialist training (CT/ST1 to CT/ST3). They are aimed at medical trainees who do not yet hold a higher degree.
Nine months of the three-year programme (ie 25%) are protected for academic work. The precise timing and arrangement of this will be specific to the post, depending on clinical and academic needs, but it will usually be taken in several blocks, for example, 3 months per year. ACF post holders are employed by an NHS trust and hold an honorary contract with St George's, University of London.
The principal objective for an ACF post holder is to cultivate ideas, contacts and preliminary data to support a funding application to undertake a full-time higher research degree (such as an MD or PhD).
To undertake a higher research degree (an MD or PhD), it is generally necessary to take up an academic clinical fellowship (ACF) post specifically for this purpose. Such posts are most often funded by the Medical Research Council, NIHR or a large charitable body such as the Wellcome Trust or British Heart Foundation.
Suitably qualified medical trainees may apply for these fellowships whether they have undertaken an ACF post or not, but ACF posts often provide the most direct means of acquiring and demonstrating the necessary experience and attributes.
Clinical lecturer (CL) posts are intended for medical trainees who have completed a higher research degree (MD or PhD). They are usually aligned with the mid to latter phase of specialist training (ST3 and above).
The post lasts until the date of the trainee’s Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT), up to a maximum of four years. Half of the time is allocated to academic work, and the other half to continued clinical training. CL post holders are employed by St George's, University of London, and hold an honorary contract with the NHS trust in which they are continuing their clinical training.
The aim of a CL post is primarily to prepare trainees for applications to advanced fellowship or senior clinical lectureship appointments.
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