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Case study: AHP campaign: "Research is a team endeavour"

Paul McLaughlin

Today, the London and south-east Clinical Research Networks are launching a campaign to highlight the role of Allied Health Professionals in research.

The first case study in our campaign is Paul McLaughlin, a Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist in Haemophilia at Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

Here he talks about his research career, the skills needed to build a career in research and why he thinks research is important.

How did you first get involved in research?

I qualified in 2000 and whilst I remember being taught about the importance of evidence-based practice research as ‘a thing’ was not something I thought much more about! Then a few years later whilst working in musculoskeletal outpatients, I was one of the team of physiotherapists who were collecting data for inclusion in a much larger external research project. I had probably not thought much more about research as an activity in and of itself that could relate to my practice until I was doing my Master’s degree. It was at this point in 2008 that I had my first real experience of initiating my own project, the idea for it having been borne out of what I had been seeing clinically. It was a study assessing the biomechanical effects of footwear on ankles with haemophilic arthritis. I recall the sense of pride and ownership that I felt for a project that I had thought of, and then having the opportunity to see it through from start to finish. The support and encouragement I was given from the other clinicians I worked with, as well as the university academics meant that I was actually successful in getting that study published. It was probably this moment when I thought this is something I wanted to do more of.

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

Probably finishing my PhD earlier this year. I was lucky enough to be awarded an NIHR-funded fellowship which presented me with an amazing opportunity to develop my rather novice academic skills alongside my already well-established clinical experience. In particular, my PhD allowed me to work alongside people with lived experience to help develop and design a rehabilitation intervention that would be acceptable and feasible for people with haemophilia living with chronic pain. This was probably the most enjoyable and humbling experience of the entire PhD process for me and one that I feel has made me a better researcher.

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

Patience and persistence are two good ones to start with! ‘Doing’ the research is probably the more fun and straightforward bit – the logistics, planning, ethics, project management, costings, communicating, data analysis all take up a bit more time than you think they will. Things overrun and don’t quite go to plan, and it can be a bit messy and stressful, but this too is part of the learning and development of yourself as well. It is also massively helped by having a strong, supportive team around you. Research is a team endeavour and it’s so important to know you can ask for help and not feel isolated or out of your depth. Safe spaces within teams, departments and the ability to approach research colleagues are so important to foster support and confidence for people to be inquisitive, and know that their views, opinions and understandings are valued.

Why do you believe research is important?

Research, especially in healthcare, runs along the spectrum of bench to bedside. Research is of course important for drug and healthcare innovations, but it is also important in helping us understand how people live (and want to live) with their health conditions on a day-to-day basis. Keeping the patient at the forefront of what we do and how we should do it means that together we can create research questions that are meaningful, with outcomes and outputs that may be more applicable in the real world.

  • For more information about starting a career in research as an Allied Health Professional, go to the Your Path in Research website.