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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.