Advancing skills & expertise: opportunities within your organisation.

JamesOver the coming months a series of guest posts will appear written by healthcare professionals describing their engagement with research. The first is from James Faraday a Speech & Language Therapist from Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is a great illustration of opportunities which may be available to you within your organisation.

Applying for research capability funding

It was June 2015, and I was ready to take my next tentative steps towards a clinical research career. I’m a Speech and Language Therapist, and I had just finished an NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic internship at Newcastle University. This provided an introduction to the world of research; a great experience which made me feel really positive about doing more of this kind of work. By the end, I had identified what I wanted to do next – a Masters in Clinical Research at Newcastle. I was all ready to apply.

Then – disaster struck! Newcastle unexpectedly lost its NIHR funding for the Masters. This meant the nearest funded course would now be Leeds, 80 miles away. My family, my home, my job were here in Newcastle – moving away was not on the agenda. What to do now?

I then saw an advert for Research Capability Funding (RCF) on our Trust website. At first I dismissed this as “not for me”. I assumed it was intended for senior, established clinical academics – totally out of my league. And the deadline was the next week! But I had a conversation with staff at the Joint Research Office at Newcastle University, who administer the RCF money. They were really helpful, and encouraged me to give it a go. So I did!

First of all though, I needed to chat it through with my manager. I had already broached the idea of doing the Masters, so this new plan was not a big surprise. Thankfully my manager was really positive about it, and happy for me to apply – with the understanding that, if successful, I would be released to do it only if she could find the necessary backfill.

So, after a slightly hectic few days, several re-drafts, and some helpful comments from my internship supervisor, I was ready to submit my application. I was applying for dedicated time (1.5 days per week) out of my day-to-day caseload for 18 months; the RCF money would pay to backfill the time. I planned to use the time to carry on the work I had started during the internship. A couple of weeks later, the funding panel responded asking me to clarify some details about the timeframe. And once I had done that, they awarded me the money!

It’s now 6 months later, and I’m well under way. I’m carrying out a systematic review on the topic of dysphagia training in dementia care, and developing a PhD proposal which I’ll submit via the NIHR CDR-F scheme. The topic of dysphagia training in dementia care is something that has emerged from my clinical practice. Dysphagia means problems with eating and drinking – this is common in people with dementia, and often distressing for carers, relatives, and obviously the person themselves. My instinct is that more frequent, structured training is needed for nurses and care staff – and so I want to examine the evidence base for this, in order to then develop an intervention.

So far it’s been a fantastic experience, but quite different to the internship. I have to manage myself far more; there is less structure and support. I am very fortunate because my internship supervisor has been kind enough to continue in this role. And I have maintained some of the other support networks which evolved during the internship. But I am much more my own boss, having to initiate things, and trying to make good use of my time – which can be very challenging!

I’ve also learned to be flexible, and not too closely tied to one particular plan – I realise now that plans might not necessarily work out! I’ve learned to persevere in the face of set-backs, there are bound to be some, and possibly many. Above all, I’ve learned not to assume that I’m unsuitable or “not good enough” to apply for something, and instead to give things a go and see what happens!

An earlier post explored the question Do I need a masters or a PhD to engage with research and James’s experience is an example of how, with the right support, it is possible to obtain funding within an organisation to undertake a significant piece of work. As importantly it demonstrates how stepping forward and silencing the inner critic which may be asking, ‘are you good enough’ can pay off. My thanks go to James for writing this post and hopefully inspiring others to check out the options available within their organisation

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