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Case study: Your Path In Research - Jia's Story

For Your Path in Research - our annual series of articles profiling the career journeys of researchers working across the region - we hear from Jia Hui Gan, Physiotherapy Team Leader at Haslemere Community Hospital, who tells us how her career has developed.

When did you first get involved in research?

My involvement in research dates back more than a decade. I was working on my dissertation as an undergraduate physiotherapy student, and to pass my professional clinical degree I had to undertake the role of principal investigator (PI) for a feasibility randomised controlled trial on diabetic foot ulcers with international collaboration.

I was then given the chance to share this research at international conferences, and did so in Malaysia, Singapore and the Netherlands. I also completed a research project as part of my MSc on the effectiveness of exercise programmes in multiple myeloma. I was invited to present this topic at a masterclass in Belgium to both healthcare professionals and patient advocates.

Why did you decide to get involved in research?

I vividly remember telling myself and my colleagues that I would not do research again after I completed my MSc dissertation. However, I regained the courage to return to research thanks to encouraging interactions with clinical academics. I received invitations to speak in conferences and masterclasses, and became an external member of a local Research Ethics Committee, as well as undertaking the role of a journal peer reviewer.

These experiences helped me realise how important research was, and how it has transformed allied health professional practice. This inspired me to continue with research in the NHS for the benefit of patients.

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

I have recently been awarded a predoctoral clinical academic fellowship (Bridge) by Health Education England/NIHR. This was the main output from the SpringBoard Individual Development Award I received from NIHR ARC Kent, Surrey and Sussex. However, I hope that the highlight of my clinical academic career is yet to come!

Why do you believe research is important?

Research unquestionably plays a fundamental role in the development of safe, effective and efficient health and care practice and services. Through research we can discover and evaluate new assessments, and treatments to improve people’s health and wellbeing. One of the most recent examples is the rapid and effective implementation of COVID vaccines, which have saved millions of lives worldwide.

Within my own area of practice - musculoskeletal rehabilitation - safe and effective interventions have been developed that have transformed the care of people with long term musculoskeletal conditions, such as Escape-pain for lower limb osteoarthritis.

What do you love about your job?

As a physiotherapist team lead, I enjoy interactions with patients and clinicians while working alongside them to carry out research on topics that are important to them. I also advise my NHS colleagues how to critically apply research evidence to their practice through my role as a ‘research champion’ in my Community Division.

I juggle this role with leading a very busy and developing community ward-based rehabilitation service. Fortunately, I have very encouraging and understanding colleagues and managers, as well as a supervisory team that supports me in my ambition to develop as the first clinical academic in my community division.

Would you recommend research as a career to others?

Without a doubt research is one of the most exciting career choices for clinicians and allied health professionals, despite requiring short term, potentially unpaid, hard work and occasional unforeseen challenges.

Why did you decide to join the ECR programme?

I joined the Early Career Researcher (ECR) programme to gain support and information to help me to develop as a clinical academic physiotherapist. There seems to be variation in clinical academic career development opportunities and structures for allied health professionals within NHS Trusts.

The ECR programme acknowledges this development requirement for allied health professionals and addresses gaps that may arise due to the allied professional clinical academic career structure.

What would you say is the most important thing you have learned through the programme so far?

I have learned that it is important to build a strong community and collaborative network to build the skills and knowledge needed to be an effective researcher. The ECR programme helps me do this by providing research skills training and support, to help me overcome any challenges that I may encounter in my clinical academic journey.

What are your plans and ambitions for the future?

My plan is to prepare a very competitive, yet rewarding, NIHR Doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship application, with the aim of rolling out transformational changes that improve the care of people after upper arm fractures.

I am also hoping to get a funded role as research lead at my community division under the Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust.