Dr Karin Purshouse
Academic Foundation Programme (2014)
Pathway to an AFP position
I did my MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) degree at Newcastle University and became interested in research after pursuing small research projects in psychiatry and surgery. Thinking surgery was my career aim, I intercalated at Imperial College London in Surgery and Anaesthesia and chose a laboratory-based oncology project to complete my BSc. It was then I realised oncology was the perfect mix of research and clinical medicine for me – the combination of really getting to know your patients and complex medical problems with the potential to develop new therapeutics in the lab. I realised an AFP would give me more experience in both clinical and research skills, and crucially give me a flavour of the demands of an academic medical career.
What does the work involve?
My AFP involved one day-release rotation in each of FY1 and FY2, and a four-month academic block in FY2. My clinical rotations (general medicine, general surgery, ITU, geratology) were great – perfect for developing as a junior clinician – and I loved having an oncology rotation in FY1.
I used my day-release to study for a part-time MSc in Translational Medicine at Edinburgh University, and study for medical post-graduate exams. My four-month research block was spent in an oncology laboratory. I organised the project with help from OUCAGS. I had an extremely positive experience in my lab and learned a wide range of research skills, far extending those I had learned in my BSc.
I tutored pre-clinical graduate entry students at Keble College, and got involved with a wide range of teaching and lecturing activities. There are many teaching skills and university examiner courses to get involved with, which really helped me to develop my teaching skills. I undertook a simulation-based, prescribing quality improvement project with another Academic Foundation Year 2 doctor and a multidisciplinary team. I really enjoyed the weekly Academic Medical Forum, where you could hear about your colleagues’ research, as well as other regular formal and informal academic events organised by OUCAGS.
The obvious benefits of the AFP are practical experience of mixing clinical medicine with laboratory research; it is completely different juggling these as a doctor compared with as a student. For me, it has confirmed that academic medicine is perfect for me, and has allowed me to learn a lot of practical skills. This helps with choosing future supervisors because you know what skills you can offer, and conversely what your research interests are and what projects you wish to do. It is also great to meet like-minded junior doctors who I know already will be lifelong friends.
Inevitably the negative aspect of the AFP is missing out on four months of clinical medicine. However, I found my enthusiasm for clinical medicine was all the greater for having protected research time.
I liked the flexibility of Oxford’s AFP because I have myself changed my mind about my career path, and I think the AFP encourages you to keep exploring. The fact that the research projects and specialties were not pre-specified was a real positive. I was drawn to the scope of opportunities available, and the enthusiasm of everyone here to get involved with teaching as well as research. I liked that aiming to be a high-quality clinician was considered as important as high-quality research. Finally, I was impressed by how friendly and motivated to help everyone was.
For the future, I hope to do a PhD and become an academic oncologist after completing a research project at Yale University next year.