Real life is not straightforward

Life never really turns out the way you expect it to. We know that about jobs, families, relationships… but somehow junior doctor training is supposed to be different. Clinical academic training is supposed to be a straight line where you progress from academic training post to funded fellowships to clinical lectureship posts to senior lectureship to Professor… Junior doctors and medical students are shown these neat charts that show a linear progression along this pathway with very few (tightly controlled) acceptable deviations. This message is reinforced by some seniors who reiterate the message that this is the only way and that any lapses from this path are failures.

The sole purpose of an academic clinical fellowship is to obtain funding for a PhD

Nobody will take you seriously unless you get a personal fellowship from a major funder

Once you leave research, very few people make it back

You have to pick your specific area early on – you can’t just chop and change through our career

I’ve been sat in a few meetings & talks about clinical academic training over the past few weeks as I try to get myself back into the research world (it’s been a busy few months). I’ve heard all of these said by senior academics who are supposed to be encouraging and supporting trainees.

And I’ve been struck by the discordance between the rhetoric and real life. The senior academic clinicians around me that I respect and admire are not people who followed these straight pathways. They haven’t stuck to a single topic or area throughout their careers. Nor have they stayed in research throughout their working lives.

Clinical academics aren’t strange robots who only function in tightly controlled conditions. We don’t suddenly cease if we step outside the research world. We don’t stop thinking or investigating or wanting to change and learn simply because we have gone back to clinical medicine. We are not trapped in a single pathway.

Real life is not linear

Nor is clinical academic training. Making your own path may not be easy or straightforward – but it is certainly not a sign of failure

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