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Case study: AHP campaign "research can help us understand the patient's views and experiences, which can help us to improve our health services or healthcare provision"

Christopher Horler

How did you first get involved in research?

A few years into my career as a physiotherapist, I started becoming interested in research, but I didn't know how to get involved. I noticed an advert for the NIHR-funded Masters in Clinical Research, and I applied for it but unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. But the team signposted me to the HEE-NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme (ICAP) internship which I applied for and was successful. I undertook the ICAP internship at the University of Brighton.

The internship enabled me to develop a research proposal with academic supervision and gain research knowledge and skills through Master’s modules.

I then used the research proposal to apply to do the Masters in Clinical Research at the University of Brighton, which I was accepted onto. At the time, the Masters was NIHR-funded and constituted the second phase of the ICAP. This has now changed to the HEE/NIHR Pre-doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (PCAF) Scheme. So undertaking the ICAP started my research career journey.

What has been the highlight of your research career so far?

The highlight of my career so far is submitting the HEE/NIHR Doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (DCAF) Scheme application in May this year. The reason it was a particular highlight is because it was a huge piece of work and was a very challenging process that I learned a lot from. After completing the Masters in Clinical Research in 2018 my goal was to progress to the doctoral fellowship application, so it has been five years in the making.

I have been successful on a couple of research grants or awards such as the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Kent, Surrey and Sussex Springboard Award that helped me to develop the DCAF application. I used the funding for dedicated time from work to develop the application and also provided some money that I put towards patient and public involvement consultation meetings, and some specific training courses to help the transition to the doctoral fellowship.

I found refining my research idea for the doctoral fellowship was a challenge. After speaking to a few leaders in the field I realised that my initial idea wasn't going to be successful and so I decided to let it go. I then had another idea, something that I am passionate about and I was fortunate to find a great academic supervisor in that field who was happy to support me. I had regular supervision with them and together we worked on the proposal for the doctoral application.

The topic area my research proposal is related to is musculoskeletal physiotherapy. It focuses on the communication of safety netting information and looking at how we can best provide safety net information in musculoskeletal physiotherapy practice.

What skills do you think are needed for a career in research?

I think time management, communication, and teamwork are important skills. As an independent researcher, it's important to plan your time effectively throughout the day, and to help yourself it will be useful to set milestones and goals for what you want to achieve that day, week or month.

Written and verbal communication is important too. You need to be able to write your research proposal clearly, write research protocols and disseminate your work through posters, abstracts and academic articles. You will also need to verbally present your research to others.

I don’t want to put people off from engaging in research if writing and presenting is not your strong point. That is where working as a team is important because if you can work well as a team, then you can contribute your part, and work out what are team member’s strong points, for example, someone else may be good at writing and presenting.

Why do you believe research is important?

We know that research is fundamental to evidence-based practice. Nationally there's a drive to reform our health service and research is going to be at the heart of that to inform changes.

Research can help us understand what treatments are most clinically- and cost-effective, so we can reduce waste, improve health outcomes and utilise our resources more effectively. Importantly, research can help us understand the patient's views and experiences, which can help us to improve our health services or healthcare provision, which is focused on their needs.

What are your plans and ambitions for the future?

My ambition is to hopefully be successful with the Doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship application and that will give me the platform to develop further as an independent clinical research leader in the field of musculoskeletal healthcare and physiotherapy with a focus on communication. I also want to support my peers and the next generation of clinical academic leaders to become involved in research.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

In terms of Allied Health Professions in research, it would be great to encourage people to get involved early in their career and show them how. We need to break the boundaries to give clinicians the time, support and resources needed to engage in research.

Find out more

More career stories and additional resources
Shape the Future — NIHR resources to support research careers