Should Clinical Practice have to be secondary to Academic Research?

The Clinical Academic pathway I am undertaking involves splitting my time, 60% academic and 40% clinical – this is often a tough ask. Priorities must be balanced and schedules carefully managed. With this split, the question often raised is this: during my PhD, is my clinical work secondary to my academic?

I would argue no!

Of course, research is important – why else would I have chosen to commit the next 4 years of my life to it? Research is essential for developing innovation, knowledge and understanding, consequently responding better to an evolving healthcare system. Undertaking the PhD will enhance understanding in how to apply research in clinical settings and to ensure evidence-based practice.

  1. I consider attaining my PhD in the next 4 years as the key to my future – so why is my clinical time just as important?
    Clinical work is what originally drew me to become an Occupational Therapist (OT) and has driven me to continue: this compassion for vulnerable individuals, and the fulfilment and satisfaction of making a difference in people’s lives. Without clinical practice I could never experience the precious moments where a distressed and agitated person connects through a calm smile, where a piece of music brings a withdrawn person to laugh, sing and dance for a few minutes. These interactions cannot be felt from the “ivory tower” of academia.
    Working effectively and compassionately with patients who have dementia is a highly-skilled role. There is no comparison to clinical practice when developing face-to-face skills and maintaining a passion for giving these people quality of life. 
  2. Clinical practice, as an OT in my case, provides a plethora of skills which pure academia could not. My current role, though not exclusively working with people with severe dementia, is still extremely beneficial. The role enables me to develop my understanding and practice of the complex needs that older people have. In order to maintain functional independence for as long as possible, someone with dementia may also require specialist seating, complex moving and handling care plans, pressure relieving equipment, mobility and functional assessments and much more. These care plans are formed and prescribed using skills which OTs need to develop in practice – not just to read about.
    Without the clinical knowledge that I have developed so far – skills that I will continue to learn and develop – I will not become an accomplished, reliable and effective leader in my clinical field.

Without the clinical knowledge that I have developed so far I will not become an accomplished, reliable and effective leader in my clinical field.
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The clinical academic route can be a lonely one, not belonging fully in either camp, and it is not without its challenges. Without doubt it takes both time management and discipline to fully commit to both, but there are so many benefits to continuing development in both fields. I am confident that through this course I will be able to contribute to the care of people with dementia in a way that is unique and makes a significant, lasting, difference.