For some people that pursue a career in surgery, a feeling persists that they want another dimension to their career that involves research and/or education. This requires not only specific training and experience, but ultimately an appointment that gives time and recognition to this role. Such a person can then be defined as an Academic Surgeon and will go on to not only care for their patients but in addition, will become a leader of other doctors as they pursue their own training and careers.
Those people who feel they wish to forge such a career may have already had contact with strong role models in Academic Surgery, but if not, the identification of and contact with such a role model is an important initial step.
Find a surgeon in your medical school or hospital who has an academic appointment with a University (often an Associate Professor/Professor).
They will have published extensively in their field and will be involved in the supervision and education of junior doctors and/or students. Usually the best way to spend time with these surgeons is in their operating theatre! Talk to them about their early experiences in training and research and about the way that they incorporate the academic and clinical components of their practice.
You can also find information at the www.surgeons.org website about Academic Surgery and specifically you can attend the ‘Developing a Career in Academic Surgery’ (DCAS course).
The next step is to gain your own training and experience in research. You may have some experience in clinical research already, or perhaps in laboratory research through an undergraduate degree or other course. However, for a career in Academic Surgery you will need a postgraduate qualification such as a Master of Surgery or a PhD. These will be through your local University. Their postgraduate office will be a source of further information. You will need three things – a supervisor, a project, and money!
Most people will identify a supervisor and this person will then work with the student to identify a suitable project and help with funding. Scholarships are available through the College of Surgeons and possibly from your supervisor through peer-reviewed grants. Sometimes industry funding is available and for surgical trainees there is often the possibility of receiving an income during your research time by assisting in private or working on-call shifts. Be careful however not to overcommit yourself to work shifts as this takes away research time and one day/week is usually the most you will want to spend on clinical work.
Finally, there is no point training in surgery or in research without a job at the end!
During your training, it is important to identify a mentor – a senior surgeon with whom you get on well at a personal level and who can provide you with essential advice and guidance. Discuss early the likely opportunities for the type of career you would like and ensure you spend time in these units during your training. Often these will be units with established academic surgeons and look for job descriptions with an identified academic component. It is difficult to be a productive academic surgeon without time each week allocated to research and preferably funding for this as well.
Incorporating an academic side into your clinical work is not necessary for everyone but those who pursue it will find it uniquely fulfilling throughout your career and eventually have the opportunity to guide others into Academic Surgery.