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Spotlight on…medical research in Wales

This month, RCP vice president for Wales Dr Hilary Williams talked to Dr Justyna Witczak, Dr Magda Meissner and Dr Sacha Moore about clinical academic career pathways in Wales.

We have an amazing spectrum of medical research going on across Wales. From the North Wales Clinical Research Facility, headed up by Dr Orod Osanlou, to clinical diabetes research in southwest Wales, to renal medicine, early phase and genomic cancer research in Cardiff.

I particularly want to mention the last year of life population dashboard developed by Professor Anthony Byrne and his team (available to those with an NHS Wales email address). By taking a whole-system approach, they have been able to capture activity of all interactions acute (secondary) care in the last year of life right across NHS Wales. This is a fantastic example of an academic clinician working with NHS data to develop an objective evidenced understanding of our care systems.

Academic medicine contributes a huge amount to the NHS in Wales: it draws in extra funding, provides our patients with opportunities to be involved with clinical trials and cutting-edge diagnostics or treatments, keeps us focused on pushing forward the boundaries of clinical science, and helps with recruitment and retention.

At a time when money is tighter than ever, providing time and support for research is a great way to attract and retain academic clinicians who contribute to the Welsh NHS. But the challenges that the UK faces in maintaining its position at the forefront of clinical research are becoming ever clearer.

What are the academic training opportunities and pathways in Wales?

If you are a trainee interested in academic medicine, there are lots of opportunities in Wales.

The Welsh Clinical Academic Track (WCAT) programme provides a unique opportunity to receive run-through clinical-academic training from IMT1 level to CCT with access to PhD funding, dedicated academic training and structured mentorship. For those who don’t want to follow a full clinical-academic path but would like to do research, there are plenty of opportunities available through Health and Care Research Wales for a variety of projects.

‘We have some truly world-leading academics in Wales spanning all research disciplines and all areas of the country, from basic sciences to population medicine and big data, from qualitative research to first-in-human studies. For trainees in Wales, we really do offer something for everyone all in one deanery, with the most supportive group of academics you could wish to meet, and I think that’s something very special,’ says Magda.

Many have benefited from grants which enables them to take fully funded time out of training for research. In Wales we have our very own Lewis Thomas Gibbon Jenkins Fellowship, which is about to be advertised, as well as many other opportunities through the RCP including fellowships, research grants, awards, lectureships and bursaries.

As well as funded time to train in academic medicine, Magda received exceptional mentorship and supervision. The strong collaboration between Velindre Cancer Centre and Cardiff University fosters an ideal environment for these academic postgraduate positions. Magda is leading very exciting work on the role of liquid biopsies in lung cancer, hoping to help patients start targeted therapy more quickly based on rapid mutational analysis. It’s important to note the role of local charities in supporting the work – like the Maxwell Family Genomics Fund – which has raised over £1 million to ensure rapid roll out across Wales.

What makes research a great career? 

‘I have research sessions incorporated into my job plan, which means I am involved in commercial and non-commercial research trials for patients with endocrine conditions and diabetes mellitus. This keeps me up to date and, more importantly, it gives me the chance to offer novel treatments through clinical trials to patients in Wales. It also breaks the routine of the standard working week, and I am always looking forward to my research day, especially because I have some fantastic and motivated colleagues to work on those projects with,’ explains Justyna.

‘It was research that first brought me to Wales. I took up an academic foundation training post in Wrexham. I was interested in the specialty, and was offered the opportunity to study for a fully-funded master’s degree alongside my clinical training. It was an opportunity far too good to miss!’ says Sacha.

Supporting and cherishing our academic doctors in Wales is vital. The RECOVERY trial has proved that we can do research anywhere in the UK, in any hospital, whether big or small. After all, our rural population deserves to access trials and the best care, just as much as those living closer to larger trial centres. Being involved in research motivates people and can led to better patient outcomes. It’s a no-brainer!

Thanks to Dr Justyna Witczak, Dr Magda Meissner and Dr Sacha Moore for speaking to us. All three are passionate about what they do and would be happy to discuss further. If you’d like to speak to any of them, just get in touch with Wales@rcp.ac.uk.

Resources

RCP. Time for research: Delivering innovative patient care in Wales. Cardiff, 2019.

Dr Anna Scholz. ‘It is the only research funding specifically available to physicians based in Wales, and as such, I felt honoured to be a recipient’ | RCP, 2021 

Dr Justyna Witczak. ‘Time in research really does fly very quickly and is very precious’ | RCP. 2021 

Dr Justyna Witczak. Your voice at the RCP | RCP, 2023.