ACF in Anaesthetics
Dr Matthew Luney
PATHWAY TO AN ACF POSITION
During my undergraduate studies, I undertook a six-month lab project at the University of Cambridge studying the immunogenicity of monoclonal antibodies. This kick-started my enthusiasm for biomedical research.
As anaesthetic training is largely a postgraduate specialty, medical students tend to get limited exposure. However, I was fortunate to have supportive mentors. I undertook a research elective in Seattle studying the management of traumatic brain injuries in children. I also led a study of neurosurgical management of cerebellar haemorrhage at the University of Cambridge.
After Foundation training in the Oxford region, I completed core training in ACCS Anaesthesia and obtained my primary FRCA examinations.
Intent to further explore a research career, I won a competitive NIAA HSRC Fellowship in Data Science. During this time, I developed research skills, trained in big data analysis, and gained additional experience with a hip fracture RCT (randomised controlled trial). This one-year fellowship also consolidated my motivation to pursue an academic career and I successfully applied to the Oxford NIHR ACF programme.
WHAT DOES THE WORK INVOLVE?
My research time is taken in blocks of 3 months, split across the three-year fellowship. This pattern has allowed me to balance:
- achieving key research project objectives, including focused time for grant and protocol writing,
- successfully obtaining funding, study sponsorship and ethics approval,
- research delivery, and
- time to prepare a competitive doctoral research fellowship application.
My research is concerned with intraoperative monitoring of patients for the identification of those at high risk of postoperative delirium. This includes signal processing of electroencephalography (EEG) and perioperative neurocognitive testing combined with the analysis of blood biomarkers of neuronal injury. This means my time is divided between:
- the clinical environment – where I collect EEG recordings and blood samples,
- the lab environment – for biomarker analysis,
- the office environment (meetings with research nurses, study management teams, and collaborators), and
- data analysis.
To consolidate my knowledge and experience of research methods, I am completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Research at the University of Oxford.
I also spend time teaching. As anaesthesia is largely a postgraduate specialty, some of my time is spent giving lectures or practical teaching to anaesthetists in training. I also teach life support skills and airway management for allied healthcare professionals, physicians and medical students.
Rewards and challenges
Being an ACF offers dedicated time to think deeply about a research problem and to network with other research-engaged clinicians and non-clinician scientists. It also affords:
- a dedicated environment in which to develop research skills and undertake training;
- through OUCAGS, a support network to navigate a clinical academic career path, advice on overcoming challenges, and signposting to opportunities for career advancement and acquisition of new skills;
- opportunities to develop transferable skills that complement clinical training (e.g. leadership, time management, proposal development, stakeholder engagement and change implementation).
On the other hand, academic work has its own challenges, which are very different to those of clinical work. The flexibility of very independent academic working is a positive. However, it also requires being highly motivated and organised to flourish in a less structured working pattern than, for instance, the daily busyness of regular theatre lists, labour ward or clinics, where the work largely presents itself.
Being an ACF also means less training time than for those on a ‘conventional’ training pathway. It therefore requires a bit more organisation to meet the curriculum requirements.
One of my reasons to apply for an ACF in this region was the opportunity to undertake research training under the supervision of world-leading clinical researchers in my field. Another was already having developed networks of colleagues with whom to foster research collaboration, since I completed both Foundation and core training in the region.
Other reasons were:
- the opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration across the University of Oxford;
- the experienced guidance and advice available to clinical academics in training through OUCAGS;
- the flexibility and encouragement to pursue my own research interests;
- the access to funded training in research methodology through the Postgraduate Diploma in Health Research;
- the breadth of resources available through affiliation with the University of Oxford, including the Bodleian libraries, the short courses in areas such as IT training in programming, and the Patient and Public Involvement courses;
- access to funding to attending conferences, present my work and network.