Straddling two worlds

I was pleased to be asked to write something for this blog, especially when I read the first posts and saw the aim of this blog: opening up the “black box of being a clinician academic”. Then I started thinking: what do I as an AHP and novice researcher have to say on being a clinical academic that is of any interest? I was asking myself: what does the term/phrase/title “clinical academic” actually mean?

To me, a clinical academic is something I feel I’m working towards. But how do I, and my peers, actually define who or what a clinical academic is? Is it somebody who has a contract with a university but comes from a clinical background? Is it somebody who has gained a PhD but still sees some patients? Is it anybody who has been through an academic institution and works in the healthcare industry? Some definitions seem far too wide and some seem far too narrow and none seem to quite cover where I want to go and what I see a clinical academic as in my mind’s eye.

Niina provided a definition of a clinical academic in an earlier post when she referred to the Council of Deans definition which says a clinician academic is a healthcare professional who is concurrently engaged in both clinical and academic activities. This brings up an interesting distinction. Am I thinking/talking about ‘clinical academics’ i.e. an academic with an interest in clinical matters or ‘clinician academics’ i.e. clinicians who engage in academic endeavours alongside clinical work? This wasn’t a distinction I had even considered until writing this. In my mind I am thinking about clinician academics but using the term clinical academics.

I know my colleagues consider me as one of the research people (I think they consider me quite a few things but not all are repeatable in polite company) in my organisation and are quite happy to ask me questions on subjects far and wide and expect me to come up with some sort of answer. Most times I just direct them to the people who I think will have the right answers and this seems to keep them happy. Even though my peers may consider me a clinical academic I’m not sure if I consider myself as one yet, as I said, I think of myself as “an AHP and novice researcher”. In some ways I feel like a bit of a fraud in some academic circles and there is always the feeling that everybody else is much cleverer and that one day somebody will realise that I don’t belong in the club, it hasn’t happened yet and I know it’s a stupid thought but it pops up every now and then. I recently saw somebody refer to this as ‘academic imposter syndrome’ which I quite liked. What makes our peers consider us clinical academics is a question for somebody to explore another time.

When I do spend time with academics, researchers and other AHPs in similar positions it brings home that there are people, maybe not lots of them but more than I previously thought, in the same position as I am and with the same worries, fears and aspirations. Amongst people from different professions, varying backgrounds and multiple interests, it is nice to find more similarities than differences. Finding this supportive community and environment and seeing how some people have flourished and established themselves as clinical academics shows that it can be done and helps me refine my thinking over what a clinical academic actually is.

I think I see clinical academics in terms of a broad spectrum. At one end we have people who have no interest in academia and research and at the other end we have people who are dedicated to the pursuit of academic knowledge and endeavours. As we are all now lifelong learners and required to complete some form of Continuous Professional Development (CPD), which will often involve some form of academic activity, are we not all clinician academics at some point? We are all healthcare professionals and all want to help people in our various ways, we just approach things from different angles and find the career pathways that suit our underlying natures.

To me a clinical academic is someone who straddles two worlds, although these two worlds are closer now than they may have been in the past. I think that as a clinical academic you are expected to be good, or better than good, in both arenas. This may be a self-imposed pressure but is something I suspect others feel as well. I think as a clinical academic I have a unique opportunity to develop practice and move my area of healthcare forward which would be difficult to do in a purely clinical, managerial or academic role.

I am about to start on the next stage of my clinical academic career as I will be studying for a PhD starting this September. The doctorate does seem to be a marker of academic ability or achievement, and gaining this type of qualification whilst maintaining some form of clinical involvement maybe is the point at which I will consider myself a clinical academic. Having said that I thought doing a BSc would open up all sorts of things for me, and it did, my MClinRes. I thought doing the MClinRes would open up all sorts of things for me, and it did, the opportunity to do a PhD. So we will have to wait and see what happens, and how I feel, in a few years.

So to bring this ramble to some form of conclusion, what do I think a clinical academic is? To me this is an emerging identity within the NMAHP population, attractive to a small group of people who may be considered slightly mad for wanting to take all this on. Some of us are further along this route than others. A clinical academic may be a simple thing to define as somebody doing clinical and academic work, but to me it’s a career path that is often not straightforward and that will require very good juggling skills.

2 thoughts on “Straddling two worlds

  1. Thanks for writing this guest post Graham. It’s great to hear about the different perspectives and how the clinician academic black box looks and feels like to different people.

    Ps. I was really curious how you talk about being a clinician academic as an identity. I very much relate to this.

    Big thanks again. Hope we hear more from you and how your journey goes!

    =) Niina

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  2. Really interesting reflections, from one academic imposter to another 😆
    I like the bit about: aren’t we all clinician academics at some point…? If we all think that’s part of our identity, I wonder if it would change how we approach our clinical work. I also like wondering what ‘non-academic’ clinicians make of it all and make of us. ..do we need a guest post to figure this out???

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