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My journey to research

Dr VJ Karthikeyan, a consultant cardiologist, considers the importance of research in his role at the North Wales Cardiac Centre and encourages others to pursue research in their medical career.

A career in medicine and particularly cardiology has traditionally involved research at every level, be it at the start of or during higher training. Research is intertwined with clinical work in the professional life of most cardiologists.

My journey through research has been rather interesting. With little exposure to research during medical school in India as well as a junior doctor in the NHS, I failed in my first interview for a research post! But I guess lesson number one is that this didn’t stop me. I was lucky to get a job as a research fellow to support the running of clinical trials in a busy academic research unit. This was ideal, as during this post I quickly learnt the ins and outs of how to successfully run clinical trials.

In terms of learning about research methodology, I picked this up in a project as part of my higher degree: writing a research proposal, obtaining peer-reviewed approval, applying for ethics, recruiting patients and healthy controls, then collecting, analysing and interpreting data, through to publishing my results, submitting my final thesis and defending it in a viva. This gave me a fundamental grounding in skills needed for research.

If I had to pick two highlights:

  • working in a relaxed environment, at my own time, learning diverse lab techniques and statistics with the collaboration of fellow researchers and mentors
  • presenting papers in national and international conferences and seeing the results of my research published in international journals. This always provides a real sense of achievement.

From there I guess I was on a roll: I was successful in winning a Young Investigator Travel Grant during one of the international conferences early on during my research project. Since, I have continued to engage in research, all through my higher training in cardiology and currently as a consultant.

My message to all those who wish to pursue research is to take the plunge and go for it.

Dr VJ Karthikeyan, consultant cardiologist at the North Wales Cardiac Centre

With the support of my colleagues and the cardiology team at the North Wales Cardiac Centre, as well as mentors from my research and higher training days, we have expanded on the research portfolio at our centre. Now I have the chance to mentor and encourage others to do research and can really see the outcome.

We have secured the support of Health and Care Research Wales and successfully obtained funding to expand our team. Our research team now has two nurses, who are responsible for the day-to-day running of clinical trials as well as constantly looking for ways to expand our research work and collaborate with other centres in the region.

So what next? We hope to continue with our efforts in setting up a North Wales cardiovascular research unit and, with support from one of the local universities, hope to introduce a research fellowship programme towards a higher degree.

My message to all those who wish to pursue research – be it a medical student or junior doctor considering a period of research during their career, or a career in research, or an established consultant who wishes to stay in touch with research – is to take the plunge and go for it! 

I am glad that I did.

The Research engagement toolkit, produced by the RCP with support from the National Institute of Health Research, provides information to physicians that will help you get engaged in research in lots of different ways.