Joys and Frustrations: balancing clinical and academic work

While balancing clinical work and research is no new thing, there aren’t a whole host of paramedics (that I’m aware of) doing it, in the UK at least. It can be quite a lonely experience. If you are a paramedic (or anyone else for that matter!) that does both research and clinical work, I’d love to hear from you.

In this post I’m going to share just a few of my personal insights in to some of The Joys & The Frustrations of what it’s like. I intended to write more, but actually found this post quite tricky to write for some reason and it has made me reflect a lot.

As I mention in my page about My PhD, I tend to work one week on the road (clinical), followed by a week working on my PhD (academic/research). I was once asked by someone thinking of applying to do a PhD for my perspective on doing it, and reading back the reply I’d written, I thought “this sounds terrible!”. What I had to explain is that while there may appear to be more drawbacks than positives, the positives are larger and far-outweigh the negatives!

The Joys

Variety

The aspect I enjoy most about doing my PhD is the variety it provides. Working a week on the road and then a week at uni means I never get tired, bored or resentful of my job. It keeps me on my toes, fresh. If I have a bad week on the road, I think “ah, only X number of days and I’ll be back in the office”, or if I get a mental block on my thesis I think “ah, only X number of days and I’ll be back on the road!”.

It can work the other way around too though. Sometime I’ll be on a role, writing thousands of words after coming up with a breakthrough, only to have to put it on hold for a week while I do my clinical work. Or I’ll be really enjoying my clinical work, only to have to wait a week while I get my academic hat back on. But overall, this is a MASSIVE plus!

Personal development

When I first began my PhD, I thought I would be a lonely recluse sat at a desk hammering out thousands upon thousands of words to create the mammoth thesis, only venturing from my desk for essentials like food, water and spending time with a vaguely familiar group of people called ‘family’. What I didn’t anticipate is that writing your thesis isn’t enough. You can’t just come out of a PhD with your thesis as the only thing to show for 6+ years of work. Supervisors, examiners, your peers (society, even!) expect you to develop into well rounded and developed researchers, with additional skills such as presenting (oral/written/posters); writing for publication (and getting published); attending/presenting at/organising conferences; sitting on additional academic groups/ethics committees; attending and presenting at journal clubs/writing groups/faculty seminars/workshops; networking; teaching; developing an “online presence”; applying for funding; peer reviewing, the list goes on.

At first, aspects of this terrified me, especially having to network or present in public (meeting people). I was scared someone would find me out as a fraud and cry out “Aha! I knew you were stupid!”. However, I’ve got away with it so far and as a result of having to go through these processes my knowledge and confidence has grown enough that hopefully I can continue to blag my way through the rest of my PhD.

Informs practice

Although my PhD topic is very niche, I try to keep up to date with the latest research relating to all prehospital subjects. Reading the literature has informed my practice so that I know the evidence (or lack of) for what we’re doing to our patients. It’s very empowering as a clinician to know that intervention X is based on high quality evidence, while intervention Y is not. It also means we can give the best treatment to our patients, based on the evidence. I’m constantly coming up with ideas for more research designs. Maybe I’ll save it for post-doc.

The Frustrations

Less Money

This is a personal Frustration for myself and not to be generalised to anyone thinking about pursuing a career in research. I’m still at the very beginning of my career and it doesn’t really bother me, but I am currently worse off financially than I was before I started my PhD. This is not because the role I do is paid less, but purely because I get less unsocial pay, less over time from shift over runs etc. It’s not a huge hit to the bank account, but it’s still something. To be really honest, it doesn’t bother me. It’s worth it for the variety, the mental stimulation and the prospects I’m hoping it will open up for me in the future. No big deal.

Organising The Diary

This is far more of a demon for me. Organising my diary has never been one of my strong points, but with the amount of meetings I have to attend, as well as working relief shift work, it can be a real minefield! Then, trying to organise a social life on top of it all? It’s hard work.

Being called “part-time” 

There is a lot of good-humoured “joshing” (paramedic humour is a very unique thing) about me being on the road only half of the time, and I don’t take it too personally, however I do find it irksome when people say I only work part-time.

If only they knew!

If only they knew the hours spent into the night reading endless mounds of journal articles following a 12-hour shift; that work doesn’t end when you get home from a shift; that I used to rest on “rest-days” but now I read or write or prepare, but rarely rest; that any moment you’re not reading or writing or preparing a nagging guilt interrupts any “rest” you do force yourself to take; that even working on the ambulances, I’m thinking about, reading about, answering emails about my PhD. And then I get home and do even more.

Part-time?

Hard

Working on a PhD and doing clinical work is hard. Really hard.

But that’s to be expected and no one ever said it would be easy.

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Hopefully this has been informative for anyone wanting to know what it’s like to do both clinical work and research, and slightly familiar to anyone that already does.

Have a different experience or view on doing research and clinical work? I’d love to hear from you. Any questions? Please feel free to ask.

Scott

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3 thoughts on “Joys and Frustrations: balancing clinical and academic work

  1. David Long says:

    Hi Scott,
    Awesome site – wish I knew about it sooner! And an interesting blog. Here’s some thoughts…

    I’m transitioning from coming off the road and moving towards an academic career. But I’m still trying to keep my foot in the door as a clinician. It’s just getting harder and harder to stay “slick” but I do work at it because I still enjoy the job (albeit as a casual). But it has also given me pause for thought that the relative merits of maintaining certification on-road may not be balanced against a new career as a medical educator. Having said that, it sounds like you are supported to work both as a clinician and as a researcher – the promised land! I’d suggest that here in Australia, it would be extremely rare to find that arrangement in a state-based ambulance service. My feeling is that they see you as either a bum-on-seat (sorry) or not. And that keeps a lot of people away from pursuing research.

    Cheers mate,
    Dave

    Like

  2. Jukka Pappinen says:

    Scott,

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Here in Finland the group of academically oriented medics is tiny, and academic studies are sadly not really valued by employers, authorities responsible for the service or even by colleagues. However, I see that research is important to improve patient care, but in the long run it will promote the status of whole EMS community. Keep up the good work and blog postings coming!

    – Jukka

    Liked by 1 person

    1. scottfsmunro says:

      Hi Jukka, great to hear from you, glad you enjoy reading the blog! All EMS services need advocates of research and evidence based practice, so that we can ensure patients are getting the best help available to them. Keep up the cause in Finland!

      Like

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