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The challenges and rewards of being a clinician researcher

Dr Pensée Wu is a senior lecturer at Keele University and honorary consultant obstetrician at University Hospital of North Midlands. Pensée tells us about the challenges of remaining research active after returning from maternity leave.  

How did you become involved in clinical research?

I have always been interested in research, with parents who are basic science researchers. During my subspecialty training, I became involved in recruiting for clinical trials and presented audit projects at international conferences. As a result of this, I realised that research can be done alongside clinical work and does not always have to involve taking extended time away from it.

Do you think there are any particular challenges of being a woman involved in clinical research?

Apart from the lack of female role models! I had not experienced many challenges prior to becoming pregnant. However, during my maternity leave, I could not support my PhD student as much as I would have liked for thesis writing and preparing for their viva. I felt that I had let my student down by handing over most of the supervision to the co-supervisor. Since returning from maternity leave 10 months ago, in addition to trying to make up lost ground in terms of clinical knowledge and skills, I had a lot to catch up on the research work too. This is made even more difficult due to childcare commitments taking over the time I used to spend on doing research work from home. 

What if anything could NHS trusts do to support women being more research active?

More flexibility in job plans to allow research time that also fits in with caring commitments, for example around the drop-off and pick-up times from school or childcare. Some clinical work may be able to be conducted remotely to reduce commuting times. This could be used towards research or to allow the ability to work from home, for example while children are asleep. Allowing full days for research would also help, rather than two half-days, as it is very difficult to quickly switch gear from clinical work to research and vice versa. Providing proper prospective cover is important too, so that on the research days the clinical work will be entirely covered by another colleague so it does not interrupt the flow and focus on research.

What advice you would give to a female clinician looking to become involved in clinical research?

Although it is hard trying to simultaneously do two very different jobs, ie clinician and researcher, I find the variety of being a clinical academic keeps life interesting and stimulating. Research complements clinical work and vice versa. I have found that both aspects of my work have been enriched by the other. So when it gets tough trying to time- manage clinical work, research work and life at home, it is worth remembering why you became involved in clinical research in the first place. My number one tip would be that having a mentor or role model is a tremendous help as they can inspire and motivate you towards your goals.

The RCP recently published the results of a membership survey showing physicians in rural hospitals, as well as women and BAME physicians, struggle to participate in clinical research. Research for all? An analysis of clinical participation in research outlines these findings and how we want to work with NHS trusts to tackle this unequal access.