Academic Foundation Programme (AF2)
Jonathan Stewart - Centre for Public Health (2015-16)
The Academic FY2 post was a brilliant opportunity to get experience of balancing research with clinical work in a supportive environment.
I’ve been interested for some time in the use of healthcare data to better understand disease. My project in AF2 used data collected from a recent clinical trial. Pregnant women with diabetes are known to have increased risk of hypertension, pre-eclampsia and to deliver babies with altered birthweight. My project investigated how antioxidants affect birthweight and pre-eclampsia risk in Diabetic Pregnancy.
Inspired by my AF2 I applied for the General Practice Academic Rotation Training Scheme (GPARTS) and subsequently for an Academic Clinical Fellow (ACF) post. I feel the skills and experience I gained during the AF2 post made me much more competitive for these posts. I’ve continued to develop my interest in healthcare data research within my chosen career area of Primary Care.
The four month AF2 post was a great experience and I would encourage anyone looking to experience research alongside clinical work to apply.”
Andrew Boyle - Centre for Infection & Immunity (2012-13)
After undertaking an intercalated degree at University I was keen to pursue further experience in academic medicine. The Northern Irish AF2 placement offers a 4-month block that is perfect for gaining an insight into the career of a clinical academic.
My placement in Critical Care gave me a unique opportunity to engage with leading clinical and scientific experts during an excellent attachment. There were so many opportunities available that I was able to build my own job plan specific to what I wanted to achieve. I was heavily involved in novel lab research, investigating exciting new treatments that could be taken forward to clinical trials in humans. The research group has several clinical trials ongoing and I was able to participate in the running of these to see how a trial works from start to finish.
I had my own research project which was brilliant as it gave me the opportunity to present at national conferences and publish in peer-reviewed journals. Having your own project is great for improving your knowledge in that specific field, and has opened up new opportunities including participating in peer-review of journal articles and writing review articles for publication in high-impact journals. In addition to research there are also many opportunities to participate in clinical education, and I took the chance to teach medical students at all stages in their training. The staff at Queen’s University Belfast are fantastic at getting you involved and offering you the chance to teach students, which helps to maintain clinical skills (and I learnt loads of things I’d forgotten since being a student!).
The Northern Ireland AF2 also allows for unique clinical experiences. I was able to spend time working in clinical areas directly applicable to my research and this gave greater clinical exposure to an area of my interest, as well as allowing me to keep my clinical knowledge up-to-date, something I worried about when taking 4-months out of clinical training.
With so many opportunities available the Northern Irish AF2 is a brilliant opportunity to develop research and clinical skills, and give you a taste of life as a clinical academic. It has also given me many more opportunities beyond the 4-month block and is an experience I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend!
Allison Menary - Centre for Medical Education (2011-12)
I was delighted to receive a 4 month AF2 post in Medical Education. Throughout my student days, I had been keen to incorporate teaching into my career in medicine and certainly this placement inspired me to further strive towards that goal.
Teaching was a huge part of my job right from day one. I found it a really rewarding experience teaching enthusiastic first and second year medical students clinical skills in the CSEC lab. As I was hoping to specialise in general practice I also loved working with the fourth year medical students with their introduction to GP.
For me, however, teaching was only a small part of my work load! I gained a huge amount of experience from a research project I was able to participate in. It looked at the use of a temporary transferable tattoo of a malignant melanoma in clinical OSCEs.
After gathering the data from the fourth year OSCE exam, I worked as part of the research team to write up the project which subsequently got published in ‘The Clinical Teacher’! This project opened many doors for me. I got the opportunity to present our findings at the AUDGPI conference in Dublin where I won the ‘Irwin Prize’ for best oral presentation as well as presenting the poster at the Ulster Medical Society junior doctor’s prize evening.
The highlight of this job however didn’t come until 6 months after leaving the job. I got the chance to travel to Lyon in France to attend the AMEE conference with a team from medical education in QUB. The aim of the conference was to partake in a workshop regarding professionalism. I was able to provide insight as a junior doctor for the international group of around 35 educators on the success and pitfalls of learning professionalism in my career so far.
David I Johnston - Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (2017-18)
I am David I Johnston, a current core medical trainee in the RVH. I completed my academic foundation job in 2017 in oncology. I decided to undertake the AFP as I developed an interest in research during my undergraduate studies and wanted to further my experience during my post graduate training. I knew there was scope to take part in teaching medical students during an AFP programme and was keen to pursue this opportunity also.
My 4-month placement was supervised by Professor Richard Kennedy. I undertook a laboratory-based project exploring cancer cell signalling pathways and possible future chemotherapy combination treatments. This project was completed in conjunction with a post graduate researcher which was of great benefit as there was always someone to give assistance in times of need. My project allowed me to gain experience in a number of basic laboratory techniques including; western blotting, PCR, cell culture, drug dosing regimes etc. I also increased my experience and confidence with literature reviews and statistical analysis. As part of my AFP I completed a ‘Certificate in Academic Medicine’ with QUB. With this qualification you complete an extended abstract outlining your work and also deliver presentations on your work. To date QUB is unique in offering this qualification.
Since my AFP, I have completed a clinical attachment in oncology also, and these opportunities have cemented my aim to pursue a career in oncology. My AFP opened doors with regards; contacts within oncology, poster presentations and possible publications.
The team organising AFP placements with QUB are very approachable and keen to help students out. Before applying to the programme, I had a number of questions answered by the team. The wonderful thing about the programme is the flexibility it offers trainees. This level of flexibility in not present during clinical attachments. You can explore teaching opportunities within QUB (this is expected of AFP trainees), you can manage your own time and can explore whatever project you want – in conjunction with your supervisor.
One aspect I was nervous about before applying was ‘being left to my own devices’ or being out of my depth in a research project given I had limited previous experience. In reality, the supervisors leading each project are keen to help trainees and will ensure you are equipped and trained adequately to complete your project.