New programme to advance clinical research capability among doctors

Posted on: 13 September 2016

A team of Irish clinical academics, led by Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity, Michael Gill, has secured one of seven major awards that have been made across the UK and Ireland by Wellcome. The scheme, which will be known as Wellcome – HRB Irish Clinical Academic Training Programme, will support the intake of eight postgraduate trainee doctors a year for a five-year period, providing fully integrated clinical and research training up to consultant level.

The award represents an overall investment of almost €13 million with €7.5 million coming from Wellcome and the Health Research Board (HRB) matched with a further combined contribution of €5.5 million from the Health Service Executive and the Health and Social Care Research and Development Office, Northern Ireland, and the partner Universities. The programme will be open to applications in autumn 2016 for an intake beginning in July 2017.

Pictured at the announcement of the Wellcome – HRB Irish Clinical Academic Training Programme, were Dr Graham Love, Chief Executive, Health Research Board; Simon Harris, TD, Minister for Health; Professor Michael Gill, the Principal Investigator on the Wellcome-HRB Irish Clinical Academic Training Programme; Tom Lynch, Chairman, Molecular Medicine Ireland.

“A research-active health system is proven to have better outcomes for patients’, said Minister for Health, Simon Harris, announcing the programme. “Patients will be the long-term winners as this collaborative investment will fundamentally improve both the number and calibre of clinician scientists working in our universities and health services. I'm really pleased to announce this significant investment in the future of the health service, and I know the positive impact for patient care is going to be very real.  I very much look forward to seeing this important programme in action over the next few years.”

Minister Harris added: “I welcome the strong collaboration that is core to this research award, and I am particularly pleased that Northern Ireland is part of it, making this an all island and multi-institutional Programme.”

The partner universities involved in the programme include Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, NUI Galway, University College Cork, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Queen’s University Belfast. Each academic partner is affiliated to hospitals and hospital groups in their region. A crucial coordinating role was played by Molecular Medicine Ireland, the collaborative entity owned by the university partners.

Professor Gill, who is the principal investigator on the Wellcome-HRB Irish Clinical Academic Training Programme said: “Our goal in securing this award was to enable a fundamental change in the training of future academic clinicians on an all-Ireland basis. At its core is a fully integrated clinical and research programme that will provide seamless, supported and mentored training of the highest standard, targeting future clinical academic leaders in the universities and health care system.”

Professor Gill continued: “The programme will identify, recruit, and mentor doctors during their postgraduate training who have the potential to become future academic leaders. They will be supported through a structured career pathway, aligned with our national research strengths and postgraduate specialities. In doing so, this programme will position Ireland well to meet future challenges in clinical innovation and excellence in healthcare.”

Professor Gill added: “Our application has the full support of all major stakeholders; the Postgraduate Forum representing specialist training bodies, the health services North and South, the Universities and the Health Research Board. Trainee clinician scientists will be based at six major Irish universities in Belfast, Cork, Dublin and Galway, and will be able to take advantage of existing clinical research infrastructures and supports in their associated hospitals, many of which have been funded by the HRB.”

According to Dr Graham Love Chief Executive at the Health Research Board: “We are committed to fostering a research-active culture among health professionals so they can continually evolve and improve care. It is great to see that the ongoing collaboration between the HRB and Wellcome Trust continues to extend new opportunities to researchers in Ireland.”

Dr Anne-Marie Coriat, Head of Research Careers at Wellcome said: “This is one of seven new clinical PhD programmes across the UK and Ireland that Wellcome has funded. Training small groups of PhD students in programmes provides an opportunity to develop cohort focussed training opportunities and further embed clinical academic training within universities and university hospitals.”

Wellcome – HRB Irish Clinical Academic Training: Brief overview of programme structure

Year 1 – Clinical (70%) academic (30%) accredited for clinical training. Fellows appointed as clinical lecturer and allocated to clinical positions in a university affiliated hospital with protected time to participate in education/research. Three core modules and one elective module will be taken, chosen from an existing Clinician Scientist Curriculum at Molecular Medicine Ireland or from additional modules in any partner institution. Fellows will be supported to make their final choice of supervisor and will submit their research proposal. Progression to PhD will follow independent review of the proposal and interview. With extensive support, we expect low drop-out rates.

Year 2-4 – Joint clinical (10%) / academic (90%). One year accredited for basic or higher specialist training (BST or HST). Continue as clinical lecturer. Fellows will complete their research under supervision and will take additional taught components relevant to their PhD. They will maintain limited clinical activity approved by the relevant training body that does not disrupt research.

Year 5-7 – Joint clinical (80%) / Academic (20%). Accredited for HST. Continue clinical lecturer appointment. Fellows will return to training positions in hospitals aligned with their host university under the guidance of their supervisor and mentors. Fellows will complete requirements for clinical training while continuing to participate in research, working with their supervisors and mentors to apply for suitable post-doctoral fellowships.

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