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Thinking of taking an F3 year? Advice on research

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Advice from the Student and Foundation Doctor Network about making the most of an F3 year, if you decide to take one.

Key tips:

  • Be aware that research is a long-term commitment
  • Have a wider plan of how you’ll fund research and how you’ll get back in to training
  • Find a mentor to support you
  • Question why research is important to you and how it can help with the next steps in your career

Research

Opportunities to gain experience in research are numerous, from basic science to public health and medical education. Do keep in mind that short term research output is often serendipitous and may require substantial and long-term commitment. All work however, provides evidence of commitment and interest to research and the associated speciality.

Research opportunities may be available informally locally via clinicians you know to be involved in research. Research fellowships and Masters in Research (MRes) programmes are usually advertised more formally via NHS professionals or Local Education Authority and deanery websites. Consideration should be given to how you will fund the qualification and whether this will overlap with a plan to return to training. It may be the case that your dissertation submission date is after any potential return to training. An increasing number of NHS trusts and Health Boards are advertising to recruit Junior Clinical Fellow positions which have dedicated time to pursue personal interests, including research. The specifics about what is offered in these clinical fellow posts can vary substantially but could potentially provide a great opportunity to embed yourself in an active clinical research unit. These positions are typically advertised on the Trust/Health Board or NHS Jobs/Professionals website.

There are also research opportunities abroad – often found by opportunistically approaching healthcare institutes or clinicians with links abroad. For example, doctors taking time out of training post-F2 have secured research fellow positions in New Zealand.

Publishing/authorship

Publishing is often an aspiration of a junior doctor, conscious it can be important for career progression but can prove challenging with limited time available during formal training.

An F3 year can provide more of an opportunity to publish, generate data, gather experiences and work on projects than you otherwise would be able to in training. You may have time to read more widely and critically appraise literature which could benefit your research project. This may also help you feel able to send letters to editors, craft opinion pieces and respond to articles in parallel with working on novel research. You may wish to spend time to undertake a critical appraisal course to help develop your research article skills. A number of organisations, such as the RSM/BMJ deliver critical appraisal courses for healthcare professionals.

Finding a senior experienced in research who can mentor you whilst honing your project design and article/paper writing skills can be invaluable. It is worthwhile clarifying who, locally or regionally is undertaking research. Often postgraduate medical education centres or medical academic societies can be helpful. Specialty specific trainee research networks (such as those for medicine, paediatrics, emergency medicine or anaesthesia) are often very keen to welcome another junior doctor to help propel their research forward.

When considering a formal or informal research component to your F3 it is worth having an understanding of why research is important to you. If it is key to your career ambitions, do review the criteria for the next step in academic training as they can vary by specialty and programme type. For example, requirements for entrance to ophthalmology training are different to those for academic clinical fellowship. Equally, just because research isn’t a key part of your current long-term career ambitions doesn’t mean that you should not integrate it into your F3 year if it is an area you are wishing to explore or understand more deeply. With current training programme structures, there is unlikely to be a time in your near future as your F3 year with as much flexibility to explore the cutting edge of research. Even simple exposure to the literature and involvement in journal clubs can be of great use in a purely clinical future career.

Publishing with the help of the RCP

The RCP’s own journals, Clinical Medicine and the Future Healthcare Journal, offer publishing opportunities. As well as full-scale research papers, they publish shorter formats such QI projects, research letters, case studies (both clinical case studies and case studies of innovative practice) and ‘image of the month’, which can be more accessible.

The RCP’s editorial staff are on hand to offer guidance to members who are interested in publishing. They have a representative available for informal chats at most of the regional updates and Acute Medicine Conferences, and will be running a ‘publishing clinic’ with the journal editor at Medicine 2020. Members can also just drop the editorial office a line for help with your specific publishing queries, or to arrange a phone chat (clinicalmedicine@rcplondon.ac.uk, FHJ@rcplondon.ac.uk).

All posters/abstracts accepted at regional updates are automatically considered by the RCP journals to see if they offer scope to be expanded into full papers for publication in the journals.