Case study: Your Path in Research - Hannat's story
We caught up with Hannat to find out more about her research story.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a clinician, researcher and trainer in sexual and reproductive health. I obtained my medical degree in 2001, have been a specialty doctor in my field since 2007, and obtained my membership of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare in 2012.
What were you doing before and how did you become involved in research?
After my foundation years and while deciding on a career path in 2006, I worked on projects to reduce children’s accident and emergency attendances for acute asthma and then to improve health action planning for people with learning disabilities. This was the start of project management involving patient experiences for me.
After training and securing my specialty doctor role in sexual and reproductive health, my medical line managers encouraged a research approach to service improvements and awarded me one session a week for research. I began to identify things that could be improved for patients and learn processes for studying and recommending improvements. They recommended I undertake a Masters in Clinical Research (MSc) supported by the Deanery's SAS Fund, during which I realised that research was something I wanted to continue doing alongside clinical practice. I completed the MSc with Distinction in 2012, and have continued my involvement in research ever since.
What do you enjoy most about research?
Making a difference in clinical practice and benefiting patients is very gratifying.The fact that an issue could be identified and studied, solutions suggested, and changes implemented based on quality evidence to bring about improvements in patient care and outcomes is such a wonderful thing. Patients could voice a concern and I would make recommendations based on research done by our team! It is even more rewarding when the research benefits patients and practitioners beyond our service nationally and internationally, gets referenced by subsequent research, or becomes cited in clinical guidance for routine and wider application.
I enjoy regular learning and meeting deadlines, as well as professional growth thanks to the generous advice and time of senior researchers and experts. In addition to working independently and in collaboration with others, I get to support undergraduate and postgraduate researchers as well as organisations to execute projects and achieve publications.
What studies have you been involved in?
I have been involved in planning, designing, recruiting to, managing, collaborating on and leading studies including clinical trials (involving medicinal products like oral contraceptives and vaccines; devices like infection and pregnancy testing kits; and sexual health information tools and processes), retrospective and prospective evaluation studies (involving cohorts both small, i.e. hundreds, and large, i.e. thousands) and surveys in my field. Some studies I have been involved in led to ground-breaking changes like the routine availability of HPV vaccination, ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception, local anaesthesia for intrauterine contraception insertions, and tailored use of combined oral contraception. I have worked with professionals in and outside the NHS, as well as patients and the public.
What are your career ambitions?
To continue to enjoy the best of both worlds - clinical practice and research involvement - while working towards attaining higher academic goals like a PhD and funded research opportunities, such as ones from the NIHR. I would like to further my professional development and career progression towards becoming a leading researcher in my field.
Have there been any challenges?
Yes, as with anything that is worth while. Research can be time-consuming, labour intensive and expensive, which requires team work and innovation to tackle and/or overcome. Funding for clinicians and early career researchers to do their own work is scarce, especially for a niche field like sexual health or conditions that do not usually make headlines for being life-threatening. Thanks to many kind mentors, considerate managers, dedicated staff and an excellent team, none of these caused me to stop despite not having any contracted research time since 2015.
What advice would you give to someone setting out in research?
Be brave in pursuing your research interests. Building resilience through reminding yourself of your purpose, reaching out when stuck, connecting with others for regular support, and continuing to learn and work on yourself and with your team shall ensure your success. The Research Design Service as well as SAS tutors and forums can also be helpful.