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Case study: Your Path in Research - Vicky's story

We caught up with Vicky Hewitt to find out more about her path in research.

My career in research is situated where teaching, leadership and clinical practice come together – igniting ideas, assessing proposals and supervising projects. I am a specialty doctor in palliative care at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust and Curriculum Director for three online MSc programs (oncology, palliative care and oncology for the pharmaceutical industry) at Newcastle University. Since most of our students are clinicians and researchers based outside of the UK, many in developing countries, learning from their experiences has fired my passion for collaboration to solve global health challenges in relation to cancer and end-of-life care.

Despite the demands of occupying three different professional roles (sometimes simultaneously!), I feel incredibly lucky to be in this position. My role model is Dr Pete Middleton, a lecturer and researcher, now retired, who taught me to appreciate the joy of research supervision. It’s the feeling you get when someone comes to you with the spark of an idea and you play a part in turning that spark into a flame. Pete knew I was passionate about improving patient care and he knew that research is key to this – he says he just connected the two in my mind when he sent me my first batch of proposals to review.

My students never fail to inspire me with their ideas and new insights, challenging me to consider familiar things from a fresh perspective. I love being part of a process which takes the bud of an idea arising from my teaching through to a published piece of research. I've recently done exactly this with a former student and palliative care doctor, researching discussions about end-of-life care in the general population and healthcare professionals in Indonesia. As a result of this work, we are in the early stages of setting up a support network of staff, students and alumni to translate our postgraduate teaching into impactful, research-led service improvements in end-of-life care.

My advice to anyone involved in research is twofold. First, know your purpose; for me, it's about enabling others to do research which ultimately benefits their patients, wherever in the world that may be. Secondly, be part of a community because these are the people will help you negotiate what can, at times, be difficult terrain. These things will keep you going through the inevitable challenges, help you keep focus and re-energize you when your motivation is low.