Clinical research: see it, do it, lead it

Pavitar Gandham and colleagues at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust explain what it is like to be some of the first pharmacists to become NIHR trainee research fellows

Practitioners of all disciplines identify problems regularly as part of their practice. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) strives to build a workforce of “healthcare engineers” who can solve these problems, or research questions, for the benefit of patients.

Undergraduate pharmacy degree programmes and diplomas in pharmacy practice can equip pharmacists with the necessary critical skills and knowledge to develop their practice and undertake audits and service evaluations. However, for many pharmacists it can be difficult to advance research skills beyond this.

An opportunity to learn

The NIHR provides an opportunity for addressing this gap in knowledge by offering funding to individual pharmacists in England to complete a masters in clinical research or a clinical doctoral research fellowship  — a scheme that was previously open only to nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

The NIHR trainee research fellowship aims to help develop a clinical practitioner to become a proficient clinical researcher and, therefore, to ensure that research is integrated into and becomes a significant part of clinical practice.

Because pharmacists only became eligible for NIHR funding in December 2013, the first people accepted onto the master’s award through this route will be not be starting the programme until September 2014.

However, thanks to funding from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, four pharmacists, of which I am one, have already started NIHR fellowships.

You can read about our experiences of being enrolled in the masters in clinical research programme at KCL below.

The National institute for health research fellowship — our experience so far

Pavitar Gandham, PGDipGPP, MRPharmS 

Clinical pharmacist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTT) 

Clinical MRes project: identifying adverse drug events

I applied for the National Institute for Health Research trainee research fellowship on recommendation from my senior pharmacist colleagues, who recognised my interest in healthcare research.

The programme offers structured support to help me learn and apply research skills, with core modules focusing on quantitative and qualitative analysis. The research project and teaching complement each other; if you think of the project as a car and the modules as the wheels, the modules equip you with the necessary skills to direct the project forward. Although the course is predominately self-directed, my supervisors are on hand to guide me through any challenges I may encounter throughout the year. No day is the same: for example, I could be meeting with clinicians to discuss elements of project design one dayand be in a seminar learning about framework analysis the next.

Grainne d’Ancona, MSc, MRPharmS

Principal pharmacist at GSTT and honorary clinical lecturer at King’s College London

Clinical MRes project: The use inhaled corticosteroids in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients

I registered as a pharmacist in 1998 and have since obtained a masters in clinical pharmacy, become a supplementary then independent prescriber and been part of many national committees. Yet, for me, beingsponsored to complete a masters in clinical research has felt like the real turning point in my career. The experience has given me the chance to learn with a dedicated and diverse multi-disciplinary student group, benefit from the supportive and nurturing environment at King’s College London and within the Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and take advantage of opportunities afforded by being a member of the NIHR faculty. 

Manuj Sharma, PGCertGPP, MRPharmS

Clinical pharmacist at GSTT

Clinical MRes project:  the harms and benefits of anticoagulant medications

Comparedwith some of my classmates, my research has been quite desk-based. Partof my time has been spent planning a study to review anticoagulant safety using the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, a primary care patient database.

I have completed several taught modules, too — including one in epidemiology and statistics — which have complemented my research work well.

It has been a huge change for me from daily work on the wards, but the supportive structure at KCL and the BRC has eased the transition and I would like to see more research work integrated into the path my career takes. This year has given me a good starting platform and there is still some way to go.

Kumud Kantilal, PGA (clinical oncology), MRPharmS

Macmillan principal pharmacist and lead for cancer education and training at GSTT

Clinical MRes project: medication safety culture

I was aware there were gaps in my research knowledge and so did not hesitate to apply when the opportunity arose for an NIHR fellowship.

Becoming a full-time student again has meant that I have gone from offering support to needing it. Some challenges have been in meeting assignment deadlines, juggling the taught programme with my research project and managing expectations.

Numerous opportunities have arisen since I started, such as attendingNIHR trainee meetings, attending an international patient safety and quality conference in Paris and sharing my experience with colleagues via a webinar. This has been one of the best decisions I have made in my career.

Interested in a career change? Take a look at the latest job listings on PJ Careers (

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 10/17 May 2014, Vol 292, No 7809/10;292(7809/10):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.11138193

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