Post-doctoral

Dr Emma Rees

Last updated: 18th December 2020

Which NHS and academic institutions do you work for?

I am a Senior Lecturer at Swansea University and I have an honorary contract as a Clinical Scientist with Swansea Bay University Health Board.

What do you like about being a clinical academic?

Each week is a combination of teaching, research and clinical work – there is never a dull moment. My mind has always been full of ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. I love innovation and thrive on change. When a question arises in practice, my role offers the time and opportunity to develop understanding and solutions through research. Being a clinical academic means that I have more time to keep up-to-date with the research of others and to consider the application to clinical practice. I also teach at undergraduate and postgraduate level which is very rewarding. I feel privileged to influence the development of so many others in the profession.

Can you briefly describe how you became and developed as a clinical academic?

I worked as a cardiac physiologist in a tertiary service for 12 years and participated in research studies led by medical colleagues. This triggered a passion for clinical research and a desire to lead studies. To pursue that desire, I took a job as a clinical tutor in Swansea University and retained clinical sessions in the NHS. Being in an academic environment allowed me to do a part-time PhD; I needed to develop the skills and attributes of an independent researcher. At the same time, I applied to be recognised as a Clinical Scientist (via equivalence). This was an incredibly challenging time. Managing a teaching job, a part-time PhD and clinical sessions was very difficult but I learned a great deal in that time. Since completing my PhD, I have designed my own programme of clinical research which currently supports a PhD student (also a cardiac physiologist)!

Give one example of where your work has changed practice?

I have developed a scientist-led cardiology service in an innovative Health and Wellbeing Academy at the University. This integrates student learning, my own clinical research, service provision, and public engagement. I am passionate about maximising the use of local resources and working across organisations. One of the key elements of the service is provision of diagnostic care closer to the patient, something which is well-aligned with government strategies. The service is used by the NHS, private practice, primary care and an external clinical trials company. My own clinical research into the accuracy and effectiveness of hand-held scanners in the community is also run out of the service, as is the work I lead on transforming cardiac diagnostic care in a local primary care cluster. I have worked with businesses, charities, and other universities to lead the delivery of large-scale public engagement events around high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation. These are linked with international campaigns and have reached >1200 people to date. The impact on health literacy and early diagnosis is significant. For example, we found 1 in 10 people had undiagnosed high blood pressure, requiring lifestyle advice and information about visiting their GP. Data from this campaign (May Measurement Month) has contributed to several publications. I am delighted with the impact of the work which has been recognised externally. The service contributed to the Health and Wellbeing Academy winning The Guardian University Award for Societal and Community Impact in 2018.

What advice would you give to a healthcare scientist who is an aspiring clinical academic?

Registration as a Clinical Scientist is the most important first step. Getting funding for research is difficult and some grants are only open to those on the HCPC register. If you don’t have a PhD, build research skills and experience through m-level modules and through supporting medical colleagues with trials. Reach out to other Clinical Academics for support and advice, they might have a research study in place that offers an opportunity to contribute. Apply for grants that support those right at the start of their research career. For example, depending on where you are based, it might possible to access NHS funding (Pathway-to-Portfolio in Wales), RCBC first into research (Wales), or the NIHR pre-doctoral, doctoral or post-doctoral fellowships. The most important thing is to start!