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Covid-19: How clinical academic trainees came back to the wards en masse

BMJ 2021; 373 doi: (Published 06 April 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;373:n558

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  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

When covid-19 first hit the UK, trainees working in clinical academia took the initiative to return to clinical practice and support the NHS’s response to the virus, Abi Rimmer reports.

In spring 2020, an estimated 1500+ academic trainees in England—representing more than 90% of all trainees on the National Institute for Health Research’s (NIHR) Integrated Academic Training pathway—returned to clinical duties.

“Academic trainees made up a workforce of at least a couple of thousand people who remobilised to the front line,” says Moira Whyte, chair of the UK-wide Clinical Academic Training Forum (CATF), a body that brings together a number of stakeholders involved in academic training.

Almost all of the NIHR clinical lecturers, who were meant to have ringfenced research time, went back to full time clinical work, according to Whyte. “Well over half of people on fellowships just stopped them and went back to clinical work, and even as late as the end of June 75% of academic trainees were still doing more clinical work than they were meant to be doing.”

Whyte thinks that these trainees deserve recognition. “Some people wonder what clinical academics actually do and this is an impressive example of their contribution to service. Many also made contributions to research into covid,” she says.

Research skills on the shop floor

Bill Irish, academic training lead for the Conference of Postgraduate Medical Deans, agrees. “The way that academic trainees responded to the NHS’s need in terms of covid was extraordinary,” he says.

“Almost to a man or woman they volunteered to work on the NHS front line and there was no requirement for them to do it.”

While these trainees helped to backfill hospital roles, their experience of research also meant they had something extra to offer, Irish says.

“One of the big questions has been what is the best way to …

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