Case study: "Research and improving the evidence base is a key factor in improving patient care" — speech and language therapist
Dr Gemma Clunie
We're putting a spotlight on allied health professionals (AHPs) in research. In this piece, Dr Gemma Clunie, Senior Clinical Academic Speech and Language Therapist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, shares the story of her career.
How did you first get involved in research?
By moving to my current Trust. I had dabbled in audit, service evaluation and quality improvement in the past, but when I started working at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust eight years ago I was suddenly in a position where there were clear gaps in the evidence that impacted my ability to do my clinical role effectively, and I was in an organisation that supported research for AHPs.
"I also love working alongside patients to help guide the research and make it as meaningful as possible."
What has been the highlight of your research career so far?
Successfully defending my PhD was a definite high point, but more generally I enjoy identifying the questions, and the systematic process of starting to look for answers.
I also love working alongside patients to help guide the research and make it as meaningful as possible. I recently heard a patient advisor say "what is the point if it doesn’t change clinical care for the better," and I couldn’t agree more.
What skills do you think are needed for a career in research?
The key skills for me have been flexibility, determination, organisation, patience, and autonomy. A research role is a very different space to a clinical role, and I initially found the change in pace and priorities disorientating, but I was also very lucky as it was my primary focus, so I had time to develop the necessary skills.
Now I am in a split role as a clinical academic, it is often challenging not to let clinical priorities overtake every aspect of your time. You then lose momentum to be able to take research projects forward. So the final skill is boundary setting.
"My research has meant I am more confident in supporting my patients through their diagnosis and surgery in terms of the advice, assessment, and management that I offer."
Why do you believe research is important?
On a personal level, my research has meant I am more confident in supporting my patients through their diagnosis and surgery in terms of the advice, assessment, and management that I offer. It has changed the multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) care pathway and review process for our patients. It has also made me more confident to explain the gaps, and where we can’t give a clear answer about a symptom or recovery trajectory.
More broadly, research and improving the evidence base is a key factor in improving patient care, and has positive impacts on staff experience. Health and social care can only benefit from research to make changes and identify gaps for improvement.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
I am currently completing two post-doctoral fellowship schemes — the Development Skills Enhancement Award and the LSBU HEE bridging scheme. These have offered me training opportunities as well as building on my existing networks to further my research.
I am gaining huge benefits from spending time at the Imperial Clinical Trials Unit (ICTU) and learning the detail and depth of planning and strategy necessary to carry out a successful clinical trial. This will hopefully allow me to develop a competitive application for an Advanced Fellowship from the NIHR looking at validating outcome measures for patients with laryngotracheal stenosis and developing a complex intervention with a view to running a feasibility trial in future. I am currently planning a Delphi study to determine a core outcome set.
My clinical role recently changed to Senior Clinical Academic Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) and I am excited to build the research capacity and capability of the SLT team at Imperial.