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ACF in General Practice


Dr Helen Ashdown (2013)

Pathway to an ACF position

Helen studied pre-clinical medicine in Cambridge and then came to Oxford for her clinical training.  During this time, she became interested in General Practice (GP) as a career, and used Special Study Module opportunities to sample what it was like to be an academic GP.  She got involved in running a simple project in primary care which answered a novel research question about chloramphenicol prescribing for acute conjunctivitis, and after that she was hooked!

Helen stayed in Oxford for an academic foundation programme. So, applying for the GP ACF scheme was the natural next step.


What does the work involve?

GP specialty training is usually 3 years, but as an ACF Helen has 4 years to train. The first two years are very similar to the standard GP training route (18 months in hospital specialities and 6 months in GP) but with one day a week during the GP post for research activity. She has found this useful for making a start on her research.  In years 3 and 4, there is integrated academic time throughout – so she works half-time as a GP registrar in practice and half-time doing research.

Helen feels that the balance of clinical and academic time as a GP ACF works really well for her as it makes the week very varied, and seeing patients alongside doing research really helps to keep her mindful of the importance of research for practice, as well as generating endless new research questions. However, although she likes how academic time gives her greater flexibility to plan her own working schedule, being a GP ACF certainly is not an easy option – the combination of clinical and academic work often adds up to well over 100% and academic work frequently spills into evenings and weekends.

She has always been interested in clinical research, generating and giving answers to help with day-to-day clinical practice. She is particularly interested in diagnosis, and has just finished a project on the diagnostic accuracy of speed bumps in acute appendicitis.  She is currently recruiting for another diagnostic study trying to determine the accuracy of breathalyser devices, which has been great fun as they have been recruiting and testing people in college bars and pubs around Oxford.  She is also involved in a programme looking at how at-risk children with influenza are managed, using a variety of different research methods – including a systematic review, qualitative interview study of GPs, and a randomised controlled trial.


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Helen is also working towards the Diploma in Health Research, and attends the Academic Medical Forum seminars as well as the postgraduate seminars in her department.


Why Oxford?

The Department of Primary Care Health Sciences in Oxford is a world-leading centre for primary care research, with people working in a wide range of fields, such as childhood infection, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and global health. There is also huge expertise in research methodology, and Helen realised that the opportunity to learn from these colleagues would stand her in good stead for the rest of her academic career. 

The academic programme provided by OUCAGS also affords lots of opportunities to meet with academic clinicians from other specialties, which is great for bouncing ideas and developing collaborations.

Helen also wanted to stay in Oxford for personal reasons – she had loved living and working here previously, and her husband is also an Oxford academic.


What’s next?

Helen has loved being a GP ACF and it has really made clear to her that she would like to follow a career in both clinical and academic general practice. She therefore plans to undertake a DPhil following completing the ACF programme, whilst also continuing with her clinical work.

January 2013