ACF in General Surgery
Dr Sarah Waldman (2013)
Pathway to an ACF position
I developed an interest in research during an intercalated degree in experimental psychology at medical school. After developing a strong interest in the psychological sciences, I went on to do an academic foundation job in psychiatry at Southampton. Although I found the academic side of psychiatry fascinating, I realised that I wanted to do a craft speciality. I came across some pain research, and it struck me that this was an area relevant to surgery which would sustain my interest in psychology and neurosciences. I contacted Irene Tracey, who runs the pain group in Oxford, and was able to start doing some data collection for a post-operative pain project in my spare time. I came to Oxford for core surgical training in order to continue this work, but found it difficult to fit research time into a non-academic programme. Fortunately, an ACF post came up a year later.
What does the work involve?
As a surgical ACF I have spent time attached to upper GI (gastrointestinal) and vascular firms in Buckinghamshire and Slough, and have also had exposure to emergency general surgery, paediatric surgery and transplant surgery in Oxford. I spend an average of 1-2 days per week in Oxford doing my research. As an ACF I have been able to take advantage of the funding provided for thediploma in health research run by Oxford University. So far I have completed 4 modules, and this has provided good general research training. My department has also sent me on a course to gain specific research skills, and I am able to attend departmental lab meetings regularly. On top of this I have had the opportunity to teach anatomy and clinical surgery to medical students at various stages of their training.
Being an ACF has enabled me to find out what it is like to juggle surgery and research, and to establish that this is something I would like to do in the longer term. I have had the opportunity to learn about how to take an idea and investigate it by setting up a project from scratch, which is a valuable experience for the future. The downside is that I have sometimes felt torn between my clinical work and my academic commitments, and I always seem to be much busier than my colleagues, despite having time dedicated to my research. I always have things to be getting on with at home in the evening and at weekends!
I chose Oxford partly due to the specific research opportunity that it offered me, but also due to the culture of academic excellence that exists here. It is a beautiful place to live and work, and the small size of the deanery means that all of the hospitals are accessible without having to move away from Oxford itself. It helped that my boyfriend lived here, and that there was plenty of countryside available for pursuing my passion for horses.
I am currently running a study in which we are using functional MRI to investigate the neurological pathways of patients who suffer from pain secondary to chronic pancreatitis. I am also analysing the data from a study that collected data about sensory function from patients undergoing inguinal hernia repairs.
The next step for me is to apply for PhD funding to continue my work.