Foundation programmes in academic medicine

Authors: Asiya Yunus 

Publication date:  10 Mar 2007

Neil Upadhyay and Asiya Yunus make a case

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the post was the realisation that different aspects of the job complement each other

The academic foundation programme usually involves doing a four month post dedicated to academic work. Many foundation trainees have been discouraged by seniors concerned that development of clinical skills would be compromised. Furthermore, the scarcity of information means potential academics have been reluctant to apply. However, academic posts are as variable as clinical posts in their content and professional development.


Posts generally comprise research, teaching, and clinical responsibilities. The balance between the three aspects can vary. There is a misconception that all academic posts are purely research orientated. Our posts, as academic foundation year 2 (F2) primary care fellows in the department of primary care and social medicine at Imperial College London are split evenly between the three.

The key to finding a placement is good research. Now that foundation programmes are established, trainees are better informed. We suggest speaking to a local academic; potential supervisors; and, especially someone in post.

Research component

A department will usually be able to offer a choice of projects. Initially this can be quite overwhelming. A successful technique is engaging in the academic equivalent of speed dating with potential supervisors. By having short chats with different members of a department, you can find someone helpful and supportive who shares research interests. The benefits of such a brazen but meticulous approach cannot be understated. Much like the intercalated BSc, the project and supervisor closely correlate with trainee satisfaction.

Your research has to be realistic for the four months you are in post. It is a good idea to discuss project ideas with your supervisor a few months before starting so that you can carry out preparatory work, such as background reading. This can be difficult if you are in a busy job, but the time taken to generate a finalised protocol should not be underestimated, especially if it involves collaborating with external researchers.

Even most devoted academics will tell you that research can be frustrating. The difficulty in getting ethical approval or recruiting enough suitable patients for a study can be stressful. As the junior member of a research team, you are similar to your clinical counterparts in that many of the administrative duties will fall on you. You will, however, have the opportunity to hold meetings with experts in their field, and a good department like ours will encourage active participation in these meetings. You will also have the opportunity to present your research project at internal and external seminars, and to get some publications.

Clinical component

If you are worried about losing clinical skills there are jobs that include a clinical component. This may be dedicated time in hospital or primary care, on-call commitments, or both.

As an academic foundation trainee, you will usually have clinical training with other colleagues. We have clinical lectures and training days.

Our supervisors offered to take us to a clinical skills laboratory to practise hospital procedures.

Teaching component

There are a few academic posts that involve formal teaching responsibilities. We received extensive training both from within the department and externally, in one to one sessions and also by attending training courses for undergraduate tutors. Such courses are usually reserved for more senior clinicians and an academic placement allowed us to benefit from these more exclusive training opportunities. Teaching has also consolidated our own knowledge base.

Synergies between aspects of the job

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the post was the realisation that different aspects of the job complement each other. One of us recently used PubMed in a difficult consultation to explain the evidence base for not prescribing a particular medicine. The comprehensive training in teaching has developed transferable skills that have improved our consultation with patients.

An academic post can include clinical work as well as teaching and research, or it can be purely research based. You need to decide what is right for you. The training we received has allowed us to develop research, teaching, clinical, information technology, and communication skills. These can help you whatever career in medicine you choose after completing your foundation programme. The academic foundation post can also give you the chance to foster links and give you a range of opportunities for your future career that would not be possible with more traditional posts.

Asiya Yunus academic F2 primary care fellow

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