One of the questions I am asked on a regular basis by health professionals is, ‘How can I get involved in research?’  If this sentiment resonates with you and you are a health professional I would really urge you to  check out the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Health Education England (HEE) Internship Programme: NIHR/HEE Internship.

There is a degree of urgency about this as applications and expressions of interest for some of the regional schemes are opening as I type. The clock has started ticking guys.

What are internships?

NIHR/HEE fund and operate the Integrated Clinical Academic Programme for health professionals. This programme provides a range of personal fellowships to enable health professionals to build their research capability at all stages of a research career. The internship programme is the introductory level of the programme offering, ‘an introduction to all aspects and roles across clinical academic research from trial design, data management through to undertaking research in a clinical environment.’

The scheme is run across 9 regions in England.  All of the schemes comprise a taught element to develop research skills and the opportunity to undertake a small project with the support of a research supervisor. The exact content and delivery varies from region to region so check out your local scheme for further details. How fabulous is this sounding? Being supported to learn some research skills whilst gaining some experience of what it’s like doing research with a researcher, usually based at one of your local universities.

The aims of scheme, stated on the HEE website, are to:

  • develop research and research capabilities throughout all levels of the NHS in order to enhance and diffuse evidence based practice (by providing research champions);
  • provide the opportunity to develop a network of clinical academics so that learning, best practice and innovation can be shared and disseminated, both regionally and nationally;
  • support the development of clinical skills as well as research skills;
  • encourage research into areas related to HEE’s Mandate or to education and training as a whole; and
  • offer an insight into a career in clinical academia and provide experience which would support applications for further formal research training.

What is the bottom line in terms of time and funding?

The time commitment will vary across the regions but the internships are designed to provide roughly 30 days of research mentorship and then additional time is allocated to the taught component. To give you a sense of what this might look like the commitment in the Northern Region is for 30 days of research mentorship with a supervisor, 4 days of face to face learning and 4 days of distance learning.

In terms of funding the NIHR/HEE ICA programme is one of the few programmes which is funded to provide your employer with backfill funding for your time. The award also covers any associated academic fees for your supervision or taught component.

What does the application process entail?

Again this will vary but for the Northern Region it comprises three-steps:

  • an Expression of Interest to be submitted by 5pm on Wednesday 17th May 2017.
  • a Full Application, to be submitted by 5pm on Wednesday 31st May 2017.
  • a selection Interview for the shortlisted candidates, to be held during June 2017.

Most schemes will involve a written application and interview.

What is my best advice if you’re interested in applying?

1. Prepare Well

One of the most frequent mistakes in making an application is that people consistently under estimate the time it takes to prepare. It is tempting to just think about the time it will take you to complete the application form. But the reality is different. The process involves other people and you have no control over their time and availability. There are conversations to be had with line managers. You might be asked to find out further information for them to support your case. They may need to make a case to someone else on your behalf. You may need to get a range of signatures on your application form.

So first piece of advice is to give yourself and other people plenty of time, don’t leave it until 2 days before the deadline.

2. Treat the process with the respect it deserves.

These are significant and highly prestigious awards funded by the tax payer, roughly to the tune of around £10,000 per internship. This represents a significant investment and therefore work hard to produced your best quality work. It is a competitive process and, from personal experience, it is easy to see who has worked hard and put time and effort into their application and who hasn’t.  If you are successful in obtaining an award you will be embarking on a process which could launch your research career. So make sure you give the application process your best shot.

3. “Go for it”

Having participated in shortlisting for a range of personal awards over the years I am always slightly frustrated by the number of people who tell me that they didn’t apply because they didn’t think they would stand a chance. You always stand a chance.  This is time to silence your self-doubt, shut away your inner critic and stand firmly in the ground of, ‘Why not me?’ Don’t stand in the space of thinking, ‘there will be hundreds of applications so what’s the point in trying’, or, ‘there is no point in asking my manager as I know they will say ‘no’. If you are serious of taking your first steps into research get curious, find out more and have the conversation with your line manager. They may just say ‘yes’.

This is a fabulous opportunity

I ran the internship scheme in the North of England for a number of years and can vouch for what a wonderful experience the internships offer. Many health professionals aren’t sure how involved they want to become with research and committing to undertake a Masters in Clinical Research can feel like a big leap if you aren’t sure. The internships let you dip your toe in the water to see if you want to wade in deeper.

Some people who completed internships in the north decided to go further applying for the NIHR/HEE Masters in Clinical Research, several went on to do PhDs. Some decided not to pursue formal postgraduate qualifications but used their small research project to form the basis for further work. Everyone became part of a community and some took the opportunity to develop further collaborations with their research supervisor.

If you are one of the people asking, how do I get started in research this is definitely rich territory to explore. Further details of the Internships Scheme, including case studies of previous participants is available on the Health Education England website