First steps as a clinician researcher

Welcome to the first post of my blog! It feels a bit self-indulgent, but documenting my path into academia might help others who may find themselves in the same situation I was a bit over two years ago: a medical doctor who has never considered a career in research.

To explain that, a bit about how I got here.

I am a medical doctor trained in Adelaide,and it is fair to say that research does not feature prominently in our undergraduate curriculum. This doesn’t appear to be the fault of the faculty, because the near universal response of any medical student to research methods education is disinterest or even frank annoyance. The few lectures we did get were grudgingly attended, with a special dislike of anything related to statistics.

It seems that for medical students, at least in my experience at the undergraduate level, research isn’t “medicine”.

I don’t blame them. I felt the same way.

Most of us sign up to medicine expecting certain things, usually informed by tropes about the caring doctor from TV shows and books. Many of these expectations turn out to be pretty reasonable, despite the fictional origins. We see patients, we diagnose patients, we treat patients. We feel like we are doing something worthwhile, which is reinforced by the feedback we get from patients and families.

But that isn’t all a doctor can do.

A bit over a year ago, I had cleared my final exams and I had one major project left to do as part of my training. The “Part Two Project”, the biggest research engagement for trainees, which must result in a talk at an international conference or a paper that is accepted for review in a journal. A fairly low bar, by the standards of some training programs, but considering the low appetite for research in radiology even this much is often seen as a burden.

For most, the part two project is an obstacle to overcome with the smallest effort possible. Find a consultant who wants something written up, spend a month or two doing the grunt work, wipe your hands.

For me, that didn’t seem very palatable. I’ve always hated the idea of busy work, so I decided to spend some time thinking about something I could do that was worthwhile. I had a long think about my interests, and my goals in life in the broadest sense, and tried to work out where a 6 to 12 month project might fit in. In the end, it took me over a year to finally strike upon my idea, but I am glad I did. The decision has changed my life for the better.

What was going to be a six month project has snowballed into a PhD, my idea has grown into an international collaboration, and my hobbies and interests have infected my work to the point that I find myself having fun and getting paid for it.

I could have made my decision to do research much sooner if I had just had someone to explain it to me. Research can be boring, if all you notice is dry stats and tedious rules without any obvious payoff. But when you are applying those rules to something you find important, to discover something worthwhile, it all changes.

Well, at least, it did for me.

I hope I can use this blog to expand on these ideas, and maybe even spark something in the minds of people like me. Who knows, a brief insight into the life of a clinician researcher might change your mind too.

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