Intended for healthcare professionals


The many roles of a clinical teaching fellow

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 14 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5677
  1. Benjamin Pippard, clinical research associate1,
  2. Oluwaseun Anyiam, specialist trainee in endocrinology and diabetes2
  1. 1Newcastle University
  2. 2Lister Hospital, Stevenage
  1. benjamin.pippard{at}


The job of a clinical teaching fellow is varied and will enhance any CV, say Benjamin Pippard and Oluwaseun Anyiam

Clinical teaching fellowships have become increasingly popular in recent years,1 offering trainees the chance to develop skills in medical education alongside clinical experience. For many, these posts provide a welcome period of work outside formal clinical training.2 Although the main attraction is still a regular commitment to teaching, we discovered, while working as clinical teaching fellows in Newcastle upon Tyne, that the post offers many other opportunities, including leadership and pastoral responsibilities (box 1).

Box 1: Roles undertaken by teaching fellows

  • Teacher

  • Clinician

  • Mentor

  • Role model

  • Examiner

  • Leader

  • Innovator

  • Academic

  • Facilitator

  • Organiser

  • Researcher

  • Learner

Teacher and clinician

Teaching is an integral part of being a doctor3 and working as a clinical teaching fellow provides the ideal opportunity to develop this essential skill. In Newcastle, the teaching we delivered was varied, ranging from structured seminars and lectures to acting as facilitators of student led learning. The extent of formal teaching involvement can differ between posts and, in Newcastle, this ranged from a 20% to a 50% commitment to undergraduate training; the remaining time was spent working in one of several clinical specialties. Fellows were therefore able to deliver ward based teaching while gaining experience in a particular specialty.

Mentor and role model

Fellows are ideally placed to support not only clinical teaching but wider aspects of students’ personal and professional development. Previous work shows that undergraduates value the pastoral role that teaching fellows offer.4 In Newcastle, most fellows acted as tutors to a group of third or final year students, giving continuity and a point of contact. Many teaching fellows led “surgeries” to support students who had failed clinical or professional assessments. Fellows often encountered students in their clinical placements, giving further teaching opportunities and the chance to “model” many of the practices being taught in the classroom.


Teaching fellows can play an important role in student examinations, both during the course and at the end of placement. In Newcastle, clinical teaching fellows supported third and final year students in their exams, operating technical equipment and timing examination circuits as well as examining clinical stations. Additionally, many fellows marked written exam papers in conjunction with the university—all underwent thorough training to ensure consistency.

Leader and innovator

Clinical teaching fellows often need strong leadership skills, not least for the organisation of teaching schedules and to liaise with colleagues. Fellows develop firm relationships with administrative staff, clinical teams, and students, creating an ideal opportunity for effective implementation of teaching strategies. One study showed the positive impact fellows had on student learning by leading teaching on post-take ward rounds.5

In Newcastle, fellows were actively encouraged to develop their own teaching initiatives. Among other successful ideas were: redesigning the third year paediatrics rotation, resulting in a dramatic improvement in student satisfaction; establishing a weekly teaching programme for foundation year 2 trainees; and developing simulation based training scenarios for final year students.


One particular benefit of becoming a teaching fellow is being able to enhance your CV. In our trust all fellows got funding to complete a postgraduate qualification in medical education, typically to certificate level but with some progressing to diploma or masters qualifications.

Fellows were also encouraged to participate in projects to foster research skills. Examples from our cohort included: investigating the benefits of near peer teaching in postgraduate medical education; and assessing the impact of fellows in supporting final year student assistantships. Several projects, including service development work, were presented at local and international meetings.

The work of clinical teaching fellows is extremely varied and extends beyond simply “teaching,” with many chances for both personal and professional development. The leadership and time management skills we developed during our own posts have been invaluable for continuing higher clinical training. These posts are an attractive option for those wanting additional educational experience, but also for employers seeking to improve services and implement innovative practice. We believe these positions should be actively sought and encouraged to the benefit of all.


  • Competing interests: We have read and understood BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and declare that we have no competing interests.