Case study: Being a research-active GP
In this interview, Dr Tara Watson describes her experience of supporting COVID-19 vaccine trials alongside her GP role and the benefits this has brought.
Getting to really know patients again has been a lovely part of the work – taking time to sit down with participants and talk to them, understand what they need help with and their motivations for taking part.
I’ve been working at the Hampshire Research Hub at Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton for just over a year now. I saw an advert for the hub and it seemed to be a good blend of my day-to-day role as a GP and research.
Until that point, I was doing medicals in the private sector and working at Solent GP Surgery where I’d been involved in a small amount research plus, more recently, some 111 work for the COVID-19 helpline. Most of the Solent research is nurse-led, so my involvement is usually around checking patients are appropriate for the trials and prescribing.
Previously my research has always been GP-based – I’ve worked on studies investigating IBS, depression, diabetes and respiratory infections (among many) and I’ve taken on the role of Principal Investigator in many of those so I have a good understanding of the research processes.
But working at the vaccine research hub has been very different. There is a lot more decision-making involved as well as going through the consenting process with people who want to take part in the trial.
When people volunteer for any of the vaccine trials at the hub we have to take blood samples and a thorough medical history to make sure that they’re eligible to take part. But we don’t just assess their medical history at the beginning of the trial, we also monitor it and offer advice and refer onwards during the trial too.
If we get participants presenting with any abnormal results or they’re experiencing symptoms that are abnormal for them, it’s nice to have a group of doctors who I can chat to and ask advice from. We can provide patients with guidance and refer them on to their GP or another specialist service if needed while also logging anything that could be a direct side effect from the vaccine.
Getting to really know patients again has been a lovely part of the work – taking time to sit down with participants and talk to them, understand what they need help with and their motivations for taking part. They really want to help and it’s a very different dynamic to normal for me.
I didn’t expect such big changes so late in my career, but working with a supportive and knowledgeable team of staff and meeting lots of other doctors from different areas has helped to open my eyes to different perspectives and research methods.
Over the last decade the GP-patient relationship has become strained and compounded because of the restrictions and pressures of the pandemic so it has been really rewarding to work in an environment where it feels hopeful and collaborative.
It’s also interesting that in this relationship I am not here to recommend a particular path for treatment or participation. The participants are making informed choices and there is a real equality of decision making.
The kindness of patients volunteering to take part in the trials, and the scale of it, has been astounding. Normally I would have to signpost patients to trials to see if they want to take part but not with the vaccine trials – people come forward because they simply want to help.
While here at the hub I’ve been involved in a lot of different vaccine trials including Ensemble Junior, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Com-CoV, Valneva, COV-BOOST and Octave Duo, which has been a challenge for me to keep up with because I only tend to work one shift a week, so when I come back in there’s a lot to catch up on!
But it’s also been a valuable learning curve for me around vaccine research and how little I really knew about it before I joined the hub. I didn’t expect such big changes so late in my career, but working with a supportive and knowledgeable team of staff and meeting lots of other doctors from different areas has helped to open my eyes to different perspectives and research methods.
It has been nice to feel that I’ve been useful and that I’m contributing to vaccine research – it’s been a great opportunity for me towards the end of my career and it has helped me to thrive during the last two years.