Intended for healthcare professionals


How to launch a career in academic general practice

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 24 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1539
  1. Dharani Yerrakalva, specialty trainee year 4 academic clinical fellow, general practice1
  1. 1University of Cambridge, UK
  1. dy255{at}


Dharani Yerrakalva explains how a special interest in academia can add a new dimension to a GP career

Trainees are bombarded with information about so many specialties. Academic general practice, however, is a well kept secret and doctors are often intrigued when I tell them about my work.

An excellent option

Many doctors will eventually choose to be a GP and one of the most common tips from experienced GPs is to find a special interest to add a different dimension to the working week. Academia is an excellent option.

It is good for those seeking a work-life balance and can be rewarding for those aspiring to make a broader impact on the medical world. Academic general practice is a varied career combining research, teaching, and clinical work. Opportunities include designing interventions for randomised controlled trials, and working on health policy, service improvement projects, epidemiological research, and medical education.

My experience

My interest in research was sparked when I took a one year intercalated degree in immunology: I felt valued and that my work was contributing to extending medical knowledge. I won an internship at the World Health Organization where I assisted with systematic reviews and guideline writing in HIV medicine. During foundation jobs I realised that general practice was the best fit for me. I had heard of academic clinical fellowship posts in other specialties, and I then found out about GP academic clinical fellowship applications.

I was awarded a National Institute for Health Research academic clinical fellowship in general practice and I am currently in my fourth specialty trainee year. During this fellowship I have done an MPhil in public health, have been published in several peer reviewed journals, and presented at international conferences. I am also involved in teaching medical students and I am doing a postgraduate certificate in medical education.

Getting involved

As well as undertaking an intercalated degree students can also carry out audits, write up interesting case studies, or ask journals about writing for them. Students can contact their nearest university academic primary care department to ask for opportunities. This could be writing a review, getting involved with ongoing projects, or doing original research. Students can also show interest by joining relevant societies like the Society for Academic Primary Care. Students who are interested in medical education could carry out activities like leading tutor groups, getting involved with local medical education societies, or thinking about taking a medical education qualification.

Next steps

Final year medical students should consider applying for academic foundation posts, which give a four month taste of academic medicine in foundation year two. These are becoming increasingly competitive and give students an opportunity to work with a research group, start a project of their own, and gain some research skills.

Foundation doctors should consider applying for an academic clinical fellowship post alongside the national GP recruitment process. These are four year training programmes with 12 months of academic time integrated with three years of clinical experience. There are sometimes opportunities for current trainees to enter into a fellowship, extending training to a fourth year. These posts have similar benefits to academic foundation posts but there is also potential to do a masters degree or start a doctoral degree.

Trainees are often worried that they do not have enough academic experience to apply for a fellowship but enthusiastic trainees who have shown some evidence of interest in research can be appointed to these posts.

For those already qualified as a GP there are a number of academic pathways for new or continued academic careers. If you have less academic experience and are considering a PhD application, the National Institute for Health Research offers in-practice fellowships.

Additionally, it might be worthwhile contacting your local academic GP department as opportunities are sometimes made available on an individual basis. For those looking to make doctoral-fellowship applications, these are commonly offered through national competition by the National Institute for Health Research, the Medical Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust.


  • • The Society for Academic Primary Care:

  • Competing interests: I have read and understood the BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare.

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