In this series we talk to past PhD students about why they got into research, what an ARC PhD meant to them, and what happened next in their research careers.
We believe in creating opportunities for research training as an investment in the future of the research community and in our capacity to positively impact on health outcomes for patients and the public. Our studentships are linked to our research themes and priority areas and students receive expert supervision and guidance from our academic colleagues.
Here we meet Dr Abi Hall, whose PhD explored the rehabilitation of people with dementia following hip fracture. She is currently a clinical lead physiotherapist for the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust community team.
Can you tell us about your PhD project? What led you to undertake it?
In 2016 I was awarded NIHR Research Capacity in Dementia Care Pilot Programme funding to develop my research interests through a PhD.
As a clinician often treating people with dementia following hip fracture, it was evident that there was a lack of evidence to inform how physiotherapists should treat them. The PhD explored rehabilitation with a scoping review, and then three separate, but interlinked, qualitative studies which lead to the development of a complex intervention.
What are you doing now? Can you tell us about your current research?
Initially I took a part-time research role undertaking the process evaluation on a large multi-centre RCT. This gave me the opportunity to work alongside senior researchers and gain vital experience while working as part of a team. I’ve since returned to working clinically alongside my research.
After my PhD project I was awarded a NIHR/HEE Integrated Clinical Academic Bridging award which is enabling me to work towards another funding application. Currently I’m undertaking a scoping review to explore physical interventions for people with advanced dementia.
What sort of impact do you anticipate, or would you like to see, your research have?
It’s estimated that in the UK there are 676,000 people living with dementia, with a predicted annual economic cost of approximately £26 million. The numbers are rising, leading to an increased burden on caregivers, community and residential care services and increased pressure and demand on healthcare systems. As dementia progresses, there’s often an associated decline in physical function and an increased risk of falls and fractures. Understanding which physical interventions could reduce this is vital both to quality of life and coping with those demands.
How did your PhD project affect your current research? Will your current research impact your project?
It gave me the opportunity to learn how to become an independent researcher, learn about research processes and methodologies, and involving patients and the public. As a clinician, research often felt like something that other people did in a language I didn’t always understand. My PhD helped me to immerse myself in this new world and gain confidence that it was something I could be successful in. It also helped me to start developing networks for future collaborations – vital to developing a research career.
How important was the participation of patients and the public in your research?
It was essential to ensure that the research was clinically relevant. Often people with dementia are excluded, but it felt vital to ensure that they were given a voice and were able to contribute. All too often I see research undertaken which isn’t clinically relevant, so this involvement helped ensure that my research was.
What happens next? How would you like your research career to develop? Perhaps you already know – tell us about it.
The majority of my research experience has been in qualitative methodologies, so I’m applying to the NIHR for a Development and Skills Enhancement award. This would help me to develop my knowledge and experience of quantitative methodologies and undertake further leadership training to help me achieve my goal of being a research leader in my field.
Would you recommend a research career? What piece of advice would you give to yourself if you were starting again or to anyone else considering a career in research?
Research is something that I love and am passionate about. It often feels like a breath of fresh air from my clinical work, but the two aspects complement each other incredibly well. There are a lot of mutually beneficial transferable skills.
The most important advice I would give anybody interested in getting involved in research is to find mentor(s) who you enjoy working with and who you are inspired by. Research isn’t something that ‘other people’ do, it’s something that we can all do. As an Allied Health Professional (AHP), I’m extremely passionate about encouraging other AHPs to get into research. Clinicians are often best placed to understand which research is actually relevant. To quote a good friend of mine when I first started my PhD, “How come you’re doing a PhD, I thought you had to be clever to do one… oops….!” The sentiment was correct though – it’s all about hard work and, no – I’m not especially clever!! If I can do it, then I’m pretty sure anybody can.