ACF in Haematology and Transfusion
Dr Michael Desborough (2013)
Pathway to an ACF position
I completed an intercalated degree at the University of Sheffield, which was focused on stem cell research. I followed this up with an academic foundation programme in Leeds doing pre-clinical work with oncolytic reovirus and acute myeloid leukaemia. There are many benefits to following an academic training programme. In particular, it allows the opportunity to learn to balance research time with clinical practice. Through the programme, I also developed a greater appreciation of the role of academic clinicians in integrating research with clinical practice.
What does the work involve?
The ACF programme offers an opportunity to get training in research methodology and techniques. It gives a clear training structure for those intending to pursue a career in clinical academia. The ACF in haematology and transfusion medicine combines training as a haematology registrar with protected research time. In my first 3 years as a registrar (specialty training grades ST3 to ST5), I have 9 months of research time. I have taken this as three 3-month blocks. It is comparatively flexible and, during this time, it is possible to get experience of several research groups to determine the field of research that suits you best. This is invaluable for the development of new skills and for developing ideas for a doctorate.
There have been plenty of opportunities to teach undergraduates (lectures and seminars), as part of the laboratory course for fourth-year medical students at Oxford University. This course is well structured and training courses on teaching techniques are available beforehand.
My research is largely based around clinical trials, and I have been able to use my research time to set up trials under the supervision of senior academics and with the aid of collaborators in other hospitals. These trials continued to run and accumulate data when I returned to clinical work.
I would recommend the ACF programme to anyone with an interest in medical research. It provides the opportunity to develop a research interest at an early stage and to gather a body of research that can be used to apply for research funding in the future. Without protected time, it can be difficult to perform research at the same time as busy clinical jobs.
There are very few ‘cons’. However, as the clinical trial work continues when I am doing clinical work, sometimes this can result in a heavy workload and it is essential to be organised to manage this.
Haematology clinical training in Oxford is excellent. There are regular teaching sessions and a two-month induction, which is particularly helpful for developing laboratory skills. The ACF programme is well established and there are many opportunities for meeting other ACFs and to present work. There are a large number of active research groups producing high-quality research in Oxford, which makes it a great environment to work in.
In addition to research time and clinical work, funding is available to complete adiploma in evidence-based medicine at Oxford University. This facilitates the development of knowledge of trial design and statistics, which are essential for a clinical academic career.
The ACF programme is very helpful for establishing the skills for an academic career. My research in haemostasis has convinced me that this is the area of haematology I would like to focus on and develop an academic career in.