15 December 2015

Progressing Clinical Academic Careers in the UK

An MRC-led review exploring the experiences of early-career clinical academics across the UK has highlighted that while many successfully advance to research leadership positions, widespread barriers to both clinical and academic progression are faced by many of those aspiring to pursue a clinical academic career.

The review details the experiences of more than 400 clinicians who applied for clinical research training fellowships or clinical scientist fellowships from the MRC, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Heart FoundationCancer Research UK, the National Institute for Health Research or the Wellcome Trust, and explores how past fellowship applicants had become interested in research, the career pathways they have pursued, and their experiences of enablers and barriers to progression as a clinical academic.

Clinical academics occupy a unique position, linking clinical practice and research, and fellowships to support the training and development of early-career clinical academics are offered by a range of funders, including the six who undertook this review.

Past fellowship awardees as well as those whose applications had been rejected took part in the review, and in both cases the majority contribute to research activity in some form in their current role. Those who had held a fellowship were more likely to now hold an academic leadership role and to have secured significant further funding, and in the review they describe the impact the award had had in supporting their career progression.

The review highlights the importance of research funding, personal mentorship and tailored careers guidance in enabling aspiring clinical academics to progress, along with a number of wide-spread barriers they face. Those taking part reported that maintaining research activity, the inaccessibility of relevant careers guidance and support, and a lack of alignment in organisational support to combine clinical duties and research time were particular concerns.

The review makes a number of recommendations for research funders and other stakeholders in clinical education and training in order to maintain the pipeline of early-career clinical academics, and ensure seamless, coordinated support for clinical and academic progression.

Professor John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council said:

“This review demonstrates clinicians’ appetite to pursue and ability to succeed in academic careers.

“Tremendous progress in supporting clinical academic careers has been made over the last decade with the implementation of integrated training paths across the UK. However, the review also highlights a number of widespread barriers to both clinical and academic progression. All stakeholders in clinical training and education have a role in ensuring training pathways offer the flexibility to support a wide range of career routes and facilitate seamless progression.

“Clinical academics play a critical role in the development of new medical treatment and technologies, with their research spanning basic discovery science to applied healthcare and clinical practice, and supporting their career progression is a continuing priority and core part of MRC’s mission”.