Dr Gwilym Thomas (above) describes how he has combined academic success with his training as a GP.
Keen to explore SSC opportunities with the Primary Care Unit?
This page brings together key sources of information for student doctors at Cambridge who are looking at their SSC options, with examples of some of the excellent projects students have carried out with us in primary care research and GP.
Does my project require ethical approval? + Financial support to help students present at conferences + About SSC projects
The Primary Care Unit carries out research and education at the highest international standards of excellence. Our research is very diverse and we aim to identify and target the behaviours that lead to chronic disease; improve early detection of disease; improve the quality of health services and deliver first class teaching to medical students, clinicians, researchers and educators. We are located next to Addenbrookes Hospital just off Robinson Way. See directions here
We have five research themes: Behaviour and Health, Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes, Cancer, Health Services Research and End of Life Care.
Ben Paxton (Cambridge medical student) shares his experiences during and after conducting his SSC with the Primary Care Unit and offers top tips for medical students interested in clinical research in his blog: Five tips for medical students starting their first piece of medical research.
Many researchers within the Primary Care Unit are happy to be approached about potential projects for SSCs. Here is our current list of potential supervisors (last updated 14 September 2020) also published on the SSC page in MedEd.
In addition to the individuals listed within the Primary Care Unit, there are also a number of GPs locally who have academic or clinical specialist interests and are willing to host students for SSC projects. If you are interested in doing your SSC within General Practice with any of these individuals please contact Mark Jenkins (email@example.com) with details of any specific areas you are interested in.
Doing your SSC in the Primary Care Unit, or in a General Practice, opens up a wide range of challenging opportunities and a wealth of experience for you. Possibilities range from research to underpin early diagnosis of cancer in primary care to tackling health inequalities through pro-active work with traveller communities. You will be working with some of our most dynamic GP teachers and primary care researchers, possibly leading to a first author publication”.
– Dr Kinnary Martin, Assistant Director of GPEG
If you are supervised by one of our researchers in the Primary Care Unit, you will be guided through the process of ethical approval, should this be necessary. If your project is supervised by a GP in practice, you are almost certainly undertaking an audit or service evaluation and in most cases, these projects do not require ethical approval. For outline guidance, check this decision tool: http://www.hra-decisiontools.org.uk/research/ (you can save the printout) and for more information see this leaflet: http://www.hra-decisiontools.org.uk/research/docs/DefiningResearchTable_Oct2017-1.pdf
We are keen to support student doctors to disseminate findings from their projects via first author publications and/or by presenting findings at conferences. Note that even if your project is not classed as ‘research’ ie does not require ethical approval because it’s a service evaluation/audit, you can still submit your abstract for consideration to many conferences, including those organised by the Society for Academic Primary Care and the Royal College of General Practitioners.
If you are planning to submit an abstract for presentation at a conference, the following information about financial support may be useful.
Students should first apply to their supervisor or research group for advice on funding support to enable them to present papers or posters about their research at conferences. Your college may be able to offer support – always ask. The Clinical School may also help with a contribution towards travel costs for this purpose. See guidance on this and on requesting absence for academic reasons on the University’s pages for students here.
If your primary supervisor is a GP in one of our GPEG teaching practices, or your SSC is supervised by a researcher in the Primary Care Unit, you can apply to GPEG for limited financial support of up to £150 per student per annum.
To apply, please send a short email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
- confirm that you are directly supervised at the Primary Care Unit or by a GP in a GPEG teaching practice as your lead/main supervisor for the relevant project, naming the GP and the practice
- let us know how your supervisor has responded to your request for financial help and whether your college has agreed to help
- confirm that your abstract on a GP/primary care relevant topic has been accepted for presentation at a conference, and attach your abstract
- provide the name and date of the conference
- confirm that you have also applied to the Clinical School for travel support if applicable
- suggest the amount you’ll need, up to £150, which could contribute towards conference fees/accommodation/travel. If we’re able to help, we’ll ask for receipts when you send us your claim for these expenses.
- confirm that you’ll formally request absence for attendance at the conference, following advice from the Clinical School here
This blog by Sophie Jackman about attending her first major academic conference may make interesting reading.
Here are some examples of primary care research projects which have been published in research journals or presented at academic conferences:
- As part of their SSC component, clinical students Tom Weatherby and Stephen Woodmansey undertook a literature review on how breastfeeding data is collected and how health practitioners communicate information about the protective relationship between breastfeeding and the risk of developing breast cancer. Tom and Stephen presented a poster at RCGP conference 2017.
- Tessa Stewart’s SSC research led on to her fifth year medical elective in Cape Town, South Africa and the publication of her paper ‘Population risk factors for late-stage presentation of cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa‘ in Cancer Epidemiology. Tessa has presented her work at international conferences.
- Tom Williams carried out a systematic review into risk prediction models for colorectal cancer, working with Juliet Usher-Smith, Simon Griffin and Fiona Walter, and publishing in BMC Gastroenterology: ‘Risk prediction models for colorectal cancer in people with symptoms: a systematic review’.
- Arjun Kingdon, now a Palliative Medicine Academic Clinical Fellow (ACF), reported his study, carried out with Michelle Wilmott with guidance from Dr Stephen Barclay: ‘Comparing Kerala, India and Cambridge, the UK: a study of doctors’ and nurses’ attitudes towards palliative care‘, in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care.
- Daniel Knights, writing wit h Stephen Barclay and Clinical Dean Diana Wood, discusses his SSC in this 2013 BJGP editorial: ‘The Liverpool Care pathway for the dying: what went wrong?’ Also, in their 2018 BJGP article, Dr Daniel Knights, Dr Felicity Knights (both University of Cambridge graduates) and Dr Stephen Barclay, Senior Lecturer at the Primary Care Unit, explain the complexity surrounding opioid prescribing in palliative and end-of-life care, with its repercussions on both public and political discourse in the UK and further afield. See more here.
- Kathryn Dixon audited GP records to examine vaccine uptake in a traveller community, with Dr Tanya Blumenfeld and PCU research associate Ricky Mullis. Their research ‘Vaccine uptake in the Irish Travelling community: An audit of general practice records’ was published in the Journal of Public Health, covered in regional media and described in this PCU article.
- Sophie Lovick’s systematic review combines the findings of individual studies of medication-taking experiences in ADHD in order to guide clinicians to effectively share decisions about treatment. Her review was undertaken with Dr Ahmed Rashid and Dr Nadia Llanwarne, and resulted in this paper in Family Practice: Medication-taking experiences in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review
- Abha Khushu conducted a retrospective observational study of the hospital records of all children under 17 years of age who were referred by their general practitioner to a paediatrician with expertise in cardiology clinic during 2011, and published the findings in journal Cardiol Young, writing with Juliet Usher-Smith and Anthony Kelsall: ‘Outcome of children referred with heart murmurs referred from general practice to a paediatrician with expertise in cardiology’.
- Gwilym Thomas looked at health-related quality of life and the patient experience of informal carers in his SSC research. Working with statistician Katie Saunders and Charlotte Paddison (now a Policy Director at the Nuffield Foundation), he used data from the English General Practice Patient Survey (2012), including 195,364 people who self-identified as carers. In October 2016, BMC Family Practice published their paper ‘Informal carers’ health-related quality of life and patient experience in primary care: evidence from 195,364 carers in England responding to a national survey’ and it was awarded RCGP category Research Paper of the Year 2016. Gwilym has now completed his Academic Clinical Fellowship at the Primary Care Unit alongside his clinical work as a GP.
- In this profile, Dr Thomas (graduated 2015) explains how well academic primary care can fit in with your medical training. Dr Thomas is a GP and has just completed an Academic Clinical Fellowship with the Primary Care Unit.