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Case study: NIHR trainee pathway helped me advance my career as a clinical academic

Dr James Price is a Senior Lecturer in Global Health and Infection at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and an Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust. James is also a CRN Kent, Surrey and Sussex Co-Specialty Research Lead for infection. James tells us about his career path and how he is shaping the future of healthcare in the field of infection.

“I qualified from St George’s Hospital Medical School, where I undertook an Intercalated BSc degree. This was my first exposure to research. After graduating, my first job was as a House Officer in London. I then moved to Brighton to take up a hybrid academic and clinical role focusing on infection.

I was interested in ‘bugs’ and infection and I knew I wanted to pursue my specialism in this field. A NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship post came up in Brighton, where my particular interest and focus was around MRSA and understanding who acquired the infection, how it was transmitted, and could we identify more effective ways to prevent it? I completed my Ph.D during this time in collaboration with the University of Oxford. My work focused on carrying out some frontline work on using whole genome sequencing as a new technique to understand how MRSA moves around hospitals. I enjoyed my work and it was great being able to collaborate between Sussex and other NIHR centres that were doing some really strong work in the infection arena. Professor Martin Llewlyn was my supervisor and I will always be grateful to him for giving me that chance to develop my enthusiasm in research.

After I completed my PhD I applied for a NIHR Clinical Lectureship post, again in Brighton. I was pleased that I could stay in the same organisation to complete my clinical training and undertake a period of postdoctoral work, becoming more autonomous, developing my skills, and specialising in my area of choice.

In 2019, I took up my first consultant post at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. I started in a predominantly NHS post as an Infection Consultant and in 2021 I became Director of Infection Prevention and Control. Alongside this I worked as an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Healthcare-associated Infection and Antimicrobial Resistance at Imperial College London. Keen to develop my academic career, when a post became available in Brighton, I moved back to become a Senior Lecturer at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and an Honorary Consultant in Infection at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust.

I would say my current role now involves 60% of my time doing research. My research focuses on the clinical applications of novel technologies like genomics and artificial intelligence to reduce healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance. In addition to being based at Brighton and Sussex Medical School I spend time across the hospital sites at University Hospitals Sussex developing and running clinically translational projects. The rest of my time I work as an infection consultant and infection control doctor. This is a great balance for me. I continue to gain first-hand experience with the infection challenges on the ‘shop floor’ and use this to drive my research.

This year I was appointed the CRN Kent, Surrey and Sussex research specialty co-lead for infection and I also lead the Kent, Surrey and Sussex (KSS) infection Integrated Academic Training (IAT) programme. As somebody who’s been through the NIHR IAT programme recently I am delighted to support clinical academic trainees. The IAT programme has gone from strength to strength in KSS, with great success rates in high impact, clinically relevant research and onward progression into successful academic careers.

I'm an advocate for supporting any healthcare professional who is interested in undertaking research. There are a large number of great people that want to get involved with research but there are barriers in the way to prevent them. Many don’t have the time in their job plans. Also I think there's a misconception that research can only be done by “academics”. To me it is about supporting enthusiasm and being made aware of opportunities which support getting as involved in research as much as you want. A great example of this is the NIHR Associate Principal Investigator programme.

In the next five years I look to become a professor in my field of expertise and lead a multidisciplinary group focused on novel applications to reduce healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance. I would measure that success by having a group of enthusiastic colleagues who produce good outputs, and enjoy what they do. I'd like to see myself as facilitating people to be able to do clinically relevant and interventional research, which is having some meaningful impact on patient safety, healthcare policy, and support effective sustainability and resource allocation.

For me, the NIHR pathway was a robust structure for my training. I am clear that I would not be where I am today without going through the NIHR academic training pathway. The resources that were made available to me by NIHR were invaluable. ”

NIHR’s Shape the Future campaign encourages healthcare professionals in the NHS to pursue a research career, highlighting development and support opportunities from the NIHR. Read about the campaign on the NIHR website