New Imperial group aims to grow the number of clinical academic leaders

A new group that aims to increase the number of clinical academics from a range of healthcare professions outside medicine has launched at Imperial.

The Healthcare Professional Academic Group (HPAG) is a hub for clinical academics in the healthcare professions working in nursing, midwifery, pharmacy, healthcare science and the allied health professions. Its mission is to increase the number of healthcare professionals on a clinical academic training pathway. The group works closely with the Clinical Academic Training Office (CATO) in providing guidance and careers advice.

A clinical academic is someone who is qualified and trained in both medicine and science. They tend to be at the forefront of influencing discussions on NHS services, procedures and treatments.  They are also responsible for disseminating and translating research into clinical practice. Many are practising doctors but the HPAG is keen for other clinical staff at its NHS partner institutions to become clinical academic leaders as they have a unique perspective on patient care that can be further developed through research.

The group aims to increase the number of clinical academics by providing mentoring support, expanding multidisciplinary working, networking opportunities and research services support.

Professor Pernilla Lagergren, chair of HPAG, said:

“Clinical academics have continued to be responsible for, and responsive to, major innovations in medicine due to their research.  However, we are facing a growing number of health problems such as chronic diseases that require us to find new ways of tackling these issues.  We recognise that we have a clear and defined route for doctors who want to be clinical academics but that hasn’t been the case for other clinical staff. We have set up this group to address this as midwives, nurses and others have a different perspective on clinical problems we face and how to solve them.  I hope that our delegates were inspired at our event and will be encouraged to become a member of the group.”

More than 100 healthcare professionals from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, the Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust gathered to learn more about the HPAG and hear from peers who are clinical academics.

Professor Jonathan Weber, director of the Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC), opened the event and outlined that Imperial College AHSC will focus on nursing, midwifery and allied health professional (AHP) research over the next five years and providing more opportunities for this group of staff to engage in further studies and clinical academic careers.

Dr Caroline Alexander, lead clinical academic for therapies at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and adjunct reader, outlined to guests the training opportunities for staff as part of the AHSC and HPAG.  This includes support with grant applications, workshops on reading and disseminating findings from research literature and research fellowships that provide funding for staff to take a year out of clinical work for research.

Professor George Hanna, head of the division of surgery at the College, added:

“There is a real desire from the College and our NHS partner trusts to give more research and clinical academic career opportunities to more of our workforce. The HPAG aims to be a hub where staff can go to at each stage of their careers for support, mentorship, networking and opportunities to collaborate with academics from the College. I hope this group will reach out to a wider range of clinical staff and prepare them to be some of the best clinical academics who could transform patient care.”

Professor Mary Wells, professor of practice (nursing) and lead nurse for research at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, presented speakers working in nursing, dietetics and physiotherapy to talk about their own research journeys and how they overcame difficulties they faced whilst doing their research projects.  They also offered advice to guests interested in research such as the importance of mentors and collaborations.

Professor Hanna chaired a Q&A panel with the speakers at the event and faculty members of the HPAG, who answered questions from the audience on how to stimulate a research culture for staff who are not doctors with existing clinical pressures and gave advice on the scale of projects they should carry out when starting their research careers.

The work of the HPAG is carried out as part of Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre, a joint initiative between Imperial College London and three NHS trusts. It aims to transform healthcare by turning scientific discoveries into medical advances to benefit local, national and global populations in as fast a timeframe as possible.  The next HPAG event will take place on Thursday 6 December at St Mary’s Hospital.

Photos: Fergus Burnett, Imperial College London