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Clinical DPhil (2014)

Pathway to a Clinical DPhil

My interest in academic medicine first emerged during an intercalated BSc in Immunology and Infectious diseases between my pre-clinical and clinical MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery). The intercalated BSc was funded by a Scholarship from the Royal College of Physicians, and I undertook a full-time laboratory research project for one term and then stayed on over the summer holidays with a Wellcome trust vacation scholarship. 

On completing MBBS I pursued the clinical academic career track. I first took up an academic foundation programme in London and then moved to Oxford for an ACF. My priority in my first few years after qualifying was to reach my clinical milestones, gain lots of acute medical experience and complete MRCP (Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians). 

During my ACF research year I decided to do a DPhil to reach academic milestones (having reached important clinical milestones) to continue a dual-track career. I developed my DPhil project and secured NIHR BRC funding during my ACF.

What does the work involve?

My DPhil is a clinical trial on aerosol vaccination of a candidate TB vaccine. The project builds on some of the work I had been doing during my ACF. The DPhil project is a very well-rounded project for me as I am running the clinical trial side of things as well as processing the samples in the laboratory and hence gaining bench and bedside experience. 

I have presented my work locally (at the Academic Medical Forum, the Medical Sciences Division DPhil day, departmental meetings) and also externally (Royal Society of Tropical Medicine Conference – where I was awarded a first prize for best oral presentation, British Society for Immunology, British Thoracic Society meeting and European Respiratory Society). I have also become co-author on 3 papers relating to the work during my ACF, so far.

I have continued to provide clinical teaching to medical students and during the DPhil also started providing immunology and infectious diseases tutorials to pre-clinical medical students. During the ACF and the DPhil I carried on with acute medicine and emergency medicine on-calls out of hours to remain up to date with clinical knowledge and skills.

Doing a DPhil has both pros and cons. The pros are that I know better what it is like to do full-time research as a clinician, had an opportunity to focus on a topic in depth, develop my general and specific (immunology) scientific knowledge and critical scientific thinking. I believe all of these experiences in turn will make me a better, well-rounded clinician. 

The cons have been the sacrifices I have had to make becoming a full-time student at this stage in my life and the challenges of an unfamiliar working environment. Also, despite continuing to do medical on-calls, I sometimes really miss the clinical life, the dynamic environment, seeing patients and the buzz of running an acute medical take (I never thought I would miss any of these!) – and look forward to returning.

All in all, I feel that I am now in a good position to make an informed decision about my future career path, with a more realistic idea of what a clinical academic life is like. 

Why Oxford?

I had completed my undergraduate and first couple of years as a junior doctor in London which gave me a breadth of clinical experience. I knew that I wanted to be in a place with a strong academic profile to pursue a clinical academic career and so applied for academic clinical fellowship programmes in London, Oxford and Cambridge. I had multiple offers but decided to take up the offer and move to Oxford as the structure of the ACF programme was best here at the time and all clinical academic trainees were supported through OUCAGS – something that I felt lacked in my AFP in London.

October 2014