Dr Sarah Karrar
ST5 Rheumatology & MRC Clinical Research Fellow, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital/King’s College London, UK
An academic career in medicine can be incredibly rewarding and encompasses a spectrum of career pathways. Most academic clinicians combine research and clinical work in some form and jobs are usually part funded by NHS trust and the associated university depending on the time split for the job. Academic clinicians include those who carry out clinical research such as drug trials and those who carry out more basic scientific research. It is a highly competitive field and continuity and success of academic side of career depends largely on research output and your ability to gain grants (which have to be constantly applied for). This can be a source of ongoing stress and does mean that job security may not be as good as for purely clinical consultants.
The other group of doctors involved in research are those employed in the pharmaceutical industry and it is possible to take time out of training to try it out for a year. I know colleagues who have done this and come back to training and got consultant posts as “clinical trials” specialists.
It was previously considered to be essential to do research/PhD to become a consultant for a lot of deaneries and specialities, I don’t think that has been the case recently (apart from a few select very competitive specialities in London for example). Other “CV” improving things could be more useful instead such as demonstrations of management interest/service development. Most Trusts now want to employ a specialist who will add to their service so being a specialist in B-cell signalling is not helpful for a rheumatology department in a DGH for whom the main problem is clinic capacity for example. Where research can be helpful for someone who does not want to become an academic is in developing a sub-speciality interest e.g. an MD in joint ultrasound might help you sell yourself to the same department as someone who will develop a specialist ultrasound early arthritis clinic.
The point is- academia and research are pretty open fields and it’s important to know why you are doing research and what is your ultimate career goal. A PhD or an MD to put after your name should not be the end point of the plan.