Lynsey Spillman, Hepatology Dietitian

NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow and Hepatology Dietitian,

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust

How would you describe your current role as clinical academic?

I am a PhD student in the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge and a dietitian at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. My PhD research aims to find out about the diet and physical activity behaviours of liver transplant recipients and what factors influence these behaviours. I hope my findings will inform clinical practice and improve patient care. My research questions were formed during my work as a dietitian with people having liver transplants. My patients were telling me more support with a healthy lifestyle post-transplant is needed. In my role as a clinical-academic I am also passionate about developing clinical academic careers by building long-lasting collaborations between the NHS and higher education institutes for nurses, midwives and allied healthcare professionals (NMAHPs).

How did you get here?

I knew that I wanted to pursue a clinical academic career from the moment I started learning about evidence-based practice as an undergraduate dietetic student and have looked for opportunities to enable this ever since. My first role as a graduate clinical dietitian included a day each week of research activities which gave me a good grounding in clinical academic work. After specialising in liver disease and liver transplantation I was supported by my hospital Trust and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to complete a master's in clinical research and this gave me the skills to design research projects and seeks answers to the clinical questions my patients and I had. After completing the master's degree, I led a qualitative research project alongside my clinical work within the dietetics department. I was successful in obtaining a Cambridge BRC/ACT pre-doctoral fellowship which provided me with time, training and support to apply for the NIHR doctoral research fellowship.

What difference has your research training and experience made to your career?

Research training has made me a more skilled and better clinical dietitian. I have an internal drive to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ and I ask these questions daily in my clinical practice. Receiving research training and experience has enabled me to answer, or work towards answering these questions. The qualitative and patient and public involvement work I have done has also allowed me to understand my patients’ experiences from their perspective, which has altered my views and understanding as a dietitian and a person. The other big impact of my clinical academic career is the diverse network of people I have met, learned from and collaborated with, providing opportunities I would not have had without clinical-academic work.

What are your top tips for anyone wanting to become a clinical academic?

  • See yourself as a clinical academic, with this as your professional identity. For me, this has meant that my ambitions and values have been driven by this and I approach all my work from this perspective.
  • Get out there and speak to as many other people as possible about their work, your work, and your ambitions. There are many networks of clinical academics, clinicians who would like to improve evidence-based practice and academics who value clinicians with research skills and knowledge. My opportunities and support have come from the people around me and I feel fortunate that I feel no matter what challenge I face, I know someone who will be able to help.
  • Collaborate with your patients. The reason we are clinicians and clinical-academics is to provide our patients with the best care possible. Only they can tell you what the best care for them is, so speak to them and listen. When times get tough, coming back to the reason I am a clinical-academic keeps me going.