Ben Bowers, Queen's Nurse and PhD student

NIHR School for Primary Care, University of Cambridge

How would you describe your current role as clinical academic?

I am a NIHR School for Primary Care Research doctoral student at the University of Cambridge. My PhD is investigating current practice and patient, family carer and healthcare professionals’ perspectives towards Anticipatory Prescribing in community End of Life Care. Its applied research which came out of clinical questions which kept coming up in my practice as a District Nurse and then Community Specialist Palliative Care Nurse.

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

I am now much more analytical and evidence-based in my approach to patient care. My research training has helped me to step back and constructively challenge some of the assumptions we make in our clinical practice. I think the biggest eye opener was realising how much of the care we provide is still based on historical ways of working or expert opinion alone. I am developing the skills to help move community evidence-based care forward.

How did you get here?

In a nutshell: Some good ideas, hard work, the help of established and inspiring clinical academics, tenaciousness, scientific rigour and a desire to improve patient care.

I had an idea that we were basing anticipatory prescribing practice on a very limited evidence base and I want to understand what was happening. With the help of an excellent and inspiring leading GP clinical academic in palliative care, Dr Stephen Barclay, alongside a very supportive manager and peers, I successfully secured an NIHR ARC Fellowship (at the time it was called a CLAHRC Fellowship).

The Fellowship gives one day a week protected time out of clinical practice to carry out my own research alongside access to bespoke research training. This gave me confidence in my own skills and potential to become a clinical academic. It also helped me to meet like-minded peers who were travelling the same path. Having ongoing advice for clinical academic nurses and mentorship has helped me to develop too.

Being thorough and systematically reviewing the evidence-base as part of my Fellowship was key to opening further funding opportunities. As a result of understanding the gaps in the evidence, devising a robust research proposal and publishing my Masters project in a high impact research journal, I was awarded a NIHR School for Primary Care Research PhD scholarship to take my research and own development further.

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

  • Practice the skills of writing. It’s the most important skill to develop for publishing, grant or fellowship writing, and dissemination. I think writing a paper for publication on something that really interests you and then getting a peer, whose view and skills you value, to comment on it is a great first step into the clinical academic world. Writing has become my favourite clinical academic activity.
  • Network. Go and meet the people in your field who you really admire and your early career researcher peers. Make it known you want to be a clinical academic and have good ideas. Leading clinical academics will invest their time supporting you and their advice will help you avoid going down some unhelpful avenues as you start your clinical academic career. Good peer support is vital too.
  • Believe in your own abilities. Tenaciousness is key as you try to juggle clinical and academic pathways. Don’t ignore good advice from those you admire though as they might see opportunities and risks you have not yet considered.