Your Path in Research: A District General Hospital consultant's journey
Dr Sadie Khwaja is an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) consultant at Stepping Hill Hospital, part of Stockport NHS Foundation Trust. She is also the Audiology lead and ENT sub-lead with the CRN Greater Manchester ENT specialty group.
As part of the NIHR’s #YourPathInResearch campaign, Sadie blogs about how she took the initiative to get ENT research up-and-running in the District General Hospital at which she is based, and offers some valuable advice for other consultants considering getting started in research.
I’ve always been an inquisitive person, so I guess research has been a kind of a natural fit for me. In a formal setting, my involvement started when I did my Master of Philosophy in Clinical Research while I was a research fellow prior to starting my registrar training in ENT. That was where I caught the initial bug, but I didn’t really take it forward until I became a consultant in 2012.
During my ENT registrar years, I got involved in as much research as I could but this was limited, as you rotated every year and each unit was variable in how much research was happening. It did not stop me in trying! I completed my Good Clinical Practice which is invaluable, two ethic approvals (a true test of stamina), and ran research on a range of topics within ENT during my six years.
Once you become a consultant, you find that you shape your career based on either an interest in research, management or teaching. I think my skillset always lay in research, so that was a direction I naturally went in. It was then important for me to become familiar with my trust’s R&D department and the NIHR Clinical Research Network to understand what was going on in Stockport and across Greater Manchester.
At Stepping Hill, there wasn’t any ENT research when I started, so it was an opportunity to really move things forward and establish contacts with the CRN to build a support base.
I was also keen to help the trainees in ENT to set up a research collaborative at core trainee and registrar level of involvement. Those were the two arms of my early engagement and, as I became familiar with the CRN portfolio, it started to grow from there. As more of the trainees found out my interest, I received emails from FY1 doctors concerning their research block.
I started building-up a reputation and looked into how everybody else did it in Greater Manchester, making sure I linked in with the CRN Specialty Lead for ENT. It was about networking with all the ENT sites in GM and then I gradually started to build on that. Over time, after we’d been able to deliver ENT research studies at Stockport, I took on a more leading role and put together a research network newsletter to help bring together like-minded ENT researchers.
I have also set up quarterly meetings where we, as a Specialty Group, look at our recruitment figures and discuss where we can go next with the studies coming up. We share that information as soon as we can via a WhatsApp group, which is a great platform for joining together across a region. We have all level of ENT doctors on it – GPs, audiologists and NIHR delivery managers – so it is a community!
To anyone considering a career in research, my advice would be: if it’s something that you want to do, it needs to be recognised in your job plan. You need to have some dedicated and recognised time in your schedule to do it. Secondly, there are dedicated CRN networks here in GM - so if it’s ENT, get in touch with us. If it’s a different specialty area, contact CRN GM to speak with their team and the Specialty Lead. Make contact with them and say ‘I want to do this, what would you advise?’ They can give you that invaluable guidance.
After that, research is all about resilience and, if you really love it, you’ll keep battling away at it. By its nature, research is not always straightforward. If you keep battling at it, you do get the results, but you have to have that desire.
To run a research project well, you need engagement from your colleagues. There’s a certain skillset you’ve got to have: love the process of research and have the leadership to be able to deliver it, because you’ve got to cajole your colleagues to find these patients and you’ve got to deliver on the numbers.
At Stepping Hill, we are fortunate to have an excellent R&D department. They are very switched-on with getting studies up-and-running and I’m grateful for all the help and expertise they provide. They play a vital role and the relationship you have with an R&D department at any trust is crucial.
Overall, research is most satisfying because you’re giving back to the patient and you’re making a change to how things are done in the future. There is a great deal of satisfaction you take from making a difference. There are, unfortunately, times when you sit in a clinic and have to say to a patient ‘we just don’t know the answer to that’. But what’s nice is having the ability to say, ‘you know what, we haven’t got the answer to that but, if you’re interested, there’s a trial taking place that’s directly answering that question, do you want to get involved?'