Dr Arjun Chandna
ACADEMIC FOUNDATION PROGRAMME (2013)
PATHWAY TO AN AFP POSITION
Arjun studied Medicine at the University of Cambridge and University College London. Along the way he was fortunate to be taught by some inspirational people, particularly Prof. Roger Carpenter, who ran a neuroscience laboratory in Cambridge.
During his third year he completed a two-term research project investigating neurological dysfunction in migraine, supervised by Prof. Carpenter. This was the first time he was really able to appreciate how integral research is in advancing the understanding of illness and disease.
Over the next three years he presented their study at a meeting in the USA, set up a larger follow-up study and continued the work in a different setting in Guyana. These experiences demonstrated that, although integrating clinical and academic work is challenging, it is possible. If you can achieve it, as well as being immensely enjoyable, research can help you see the world!
The AFP seemed like the perfect opportunity for Arjun to determine if he really did enjoy clinical research and, crucially, it afforded him the time with which to do this.
WHAT DOES THE WORK INVOLVE?
The academic component of Arjun’s foundation training included a four-month research post in Foundation Year 2 (FY2) and academic day release for four months in FY1 and FY2. Day release allowed the time to set up his main project and to be involved in other academic activities. However, clinical jobs often ‘overspill’. So, the standalone four-month research post, spent strengthening capacity for antimicrobial stewardship in Vietnam, enabled him to concentrate solely on his academic work for a dedicated period.
During day release he was able to successfully submit a previous research project for publication. He also helped with recruitment to an international multicentre trial; his role was consenting patients and data collection (blood, nasopharyngeal and throat swabs). Finally, he set up and delivered a medical student teaching programme at Oriel College. Through this work he gained accreditation as an Associate Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy. The AFP at Oxford also allowed him to complete various courses including Teaching Skills, Medical Statistics and Good Clinical Practice.
In Arjun’s opinion, these experiences were complemented by excellent clinical jobs. Attachments in acute surgery, acute medicine, adult psychiatry, general practice and emergency medicine ensured that he obtained a broad knowledge base and easily met the core competencies required to complete foundation training.
The University of Oxford has a world-class reputation for research and hence Arjun knew there would be lots of opportunities to join exciting research groups. In addition, he was particularly attracted by the flexibility of the Oxford programme. The attachments are in academic medicine or academic surgery and it is up to the trainee to find something of interest to them.
This proved to be particularly important for Arjun because at the time he left medical school he had not decided what he would like to specialise in. All his research experience had been in neuroscience but the more he studied clinical medicine the more he became interested in infectious diseases and international health. The flexibility of the Oxford programme allowed him to explore this interest and he ended up having a very different experience to that which he had first envisaged.
The greatest challenge of the Oxford AFP is also its greatest strength: the programme is far less prescriptive than other AFPs and it is up to trainees to approach Principal Investigators (PIs) and organise suitable projects. This can be daunting, especially for someone new to Oxford. However, OUCAGS provides excellent support. The organisation, headed up by Denise Best, offers invaluable advice and, through their expansive network, has access to many useful contacts. In addition, OUCAGS can often provide funding to trainees, or at least point you in the direction of the appropriate grant.
Arjun’s experience consolidated his interest in infectious diseases and international health. It has lent fresh perspective to his approach to healthcare and encouraged him to use his medical skills in resource-limited settings. In August 2014 he will take up a six-month NHS International Development Fellowship in Cambodia, something he may not have considered had he not had the opportunities offered to him during the AFP.