Russell Fitchett, Radiographer Manager
Radiotherapy Department, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Trust
How would you describe your current role as clinical academic?
After finishing my MSc in Clinical Research at the University of East Anglia, I successfully interviewed for a one-year post as Advanced Practice Radiographer for clinical trials and research. I returned to my previous Radiographer Manager role afterwards, but continued to be involved with trials and research. My clinical role mainly involves the pre-treatment area of radiotherapy, including scanning, planning and development of new techniques. My work covers all cancer sites, but I have a particular interest in head and neck radiotherapy. I am responsible for the implementation of clinical trials in the radiotherapy department, including undertaking quality assurance, training, and completing case report forms. I actively promote research within the radiotherapy department and have supported radiographers to publish in professional and academic journals and to submit abstracts and present research at national conferences.
How did you get here?
I have a wealth of experience in therapeutic radiography spanning 25 years and seven different radiotherapy departments. I have conducted technique development, innovation and audits throughout my career, but until I began my MSc in Clinical Research in 2016 at the University of East Anglia, I thought ‘real’ research was only for academics in universities. I wasn’t aware of how important it is for clinical professionals to embed research in our daily practice, or where to even begin setting up rigorous, systematic research. The HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme has been instrumental in giving me the skills to undertake high-quality research that could potentially make real improvements to patients’ and professionals’ lives.
I maintained my links with UEA by undertaking their Pre-Doctoral Bridging Programme whilst continuing with my clinical role at NNUH and I have submitted an application for a NIHR Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship.
What difference has your research training and experience made to your career?
The HEE/NIHR-funded MSc course gave me a grounding in quantitative and qualitative methods, how they can be used to answer clinically-relevant research questions and sparked my desire to address the important professional and patient care issues I care about most. I managed to publish my dissertation, which examined the lived experience of head and neck cancer patients receiving radiotherapy, in the journal ‘Psycho-Oncology’ and I have presented my work at three national conferences.
The UEA Pre-Doctoral Bridging Programme supported me to further develop my dissertation and produce a robust project plan which addresses the head and neck patients’ experience of radiotherapy using participatory action research methods. This formed to basis of my application for an NIHR Fellowship. Among other things, the Bridging Programme provided expert advice from the Research Design Service, advice from practising clinical academics, and helped me undertake the essential Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) work that formed the foundation of my proposal.
My research training has given me the confidence to branch out in my clinical role. During the Bridging Programme, I became a committee member for the East of England Council for Allied Health Professional Research (CAHPR). I have recently become a peer reviewer for my professional body’s scientific journal ‘Radiography’. I have become a volunteer for the ‘Inspire the Future’ campaign and have attended career events at schools to promote careers in both therapeutic radiography and research in the health sector.
What are your top tips for anyone wanting to become a clinical academic?
All I can say is network as much as you can. Get to know as many advanced and specialist practitioners in your field or similar fields. Find out who the professional lead for research is at your hospital and speak to them.
Look out for programmes like the NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic one and clinical practitioner networks, forums and meetings. There are a surprising number of people out there who would like to develop clinical academic careers and I know they would be delighted to connect and move things forward.