Networks and networking

CcX_soBe
The network: (from left to right) Amit Kulkarni, Dr Jackie McRae, Jo Wallinger, Anna Volkmer, Dr Lotte Meteyard, Dr Abi Roper (I am represented by the teleconference equipment in the front right corner!).

I recall learning about ‘networks’ during my Masters degree in clinical leadership; and not really getting it. As a clinician, I was part of special interest groups, and attended meetings concerned with sharing learning and information, which would then inform my clinical practice. With regards to broader networks, I couldn’t really understand how people outside my organisation or specialism would be able to help me within my role as a speech and language therapist. And I have never been very keen on the small-talk that I associated with ‘networking’ at conferences, meetings or social events.  Oh, how little did I know! As a distance learning student, based 200 miles from my university, I realised early on in my academic journey that I would need support that I couldn’t access in my local, rural environment. I started scouting about for sources of support on the internet and I found other clinical academics were discussing their research, clinical interests and wider concerns via social media. I wanted to join in but I wasn’t really sure how to start. I lurked, liked, commented and finally found the confidence to join in Tweetchats with ResNetSLT. Inspired by the people I was connecting with in my new virtual-networks, I became more engaged on Twitter and started writing this blog. I was delighted when my blog post about clinical academic careers ignited an impassioned conversation on Twitter, and was honoured to be at the inception of @ClinAcSLT – a Twitter network for speech and language therapists (SLTs) who want to pursue a clinical academic career. At the beginning of April, a few SLTs who had been part of that twitter conversation, and who are engaged some form of clinical-academic activity, met at the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in London to discuss how this new network could address some of the issues and concerns raised during the Twitter chat. Virtual networking became real (well, almost – I dialled in to the meeting via teleconference).

The @ClinAcSLT meeting consisted of SLTs with a variety of clinical and academic experience. As a group, we were keen that any new network should complement those already in existence. The RCSLT Research Champions network  (RCSLT members only) represents a range of SLTs from those who are research-interested clinicians to professors with established research portfolios. The aim of this network is to help SLTs find training and to provide a mechanism for cascading research information from the RCSLT research centre to its members. ResNetSLT was established by Dr Hazel Roddam and is an online forum offering free access to research news, viewpoints and resources. A newly formed action group runs a monthly Twitter discussion forum for exchange of perspectives between individuals at different stages of their career, with the aim of supporting clinicians in evidence-based practice. The Twitter group has engaged with an international audience and with clinicians from a range disciplines. Fellow Blogger, SLT and NIHR research fellow Anna Volkmer talked about local, university-based networks, such as the Research Generator Workshop at University College London, that aim to support clinicians who have ideas for research projects and who want to identify next-steps.

As a group we identified some of the funding bodies and pathways that can enable clinicians to engage in research such as the NIHR, MRC and charities such as the Stroke Association. Representation can be an issue within these organisations however. The NIHR does not yet have an SLT advocate who could support SLTs to access their clinical academic pathways. Most of the large research-funders are health-focused which can make it difficult for SLTs working with children or in education to access grants. Despite some progress being made in the development of training pathways for allied health professionals there are still very few that posts that span academic and health organisations, i.e. truly clinical-academic roles. We identified that a Clinical Academic CEN (clinical excellence network, supported by the RCSLT) could help to address some of these issues by sharing the collective wisdom and achievements of existing clinical academics with a view to developing an infrastructure that will help others in future. Regular meetings could provide a forum for SLTs to explore funding pathways, provide face to face mentoring and support individuals to develop research ideas. The network could also be part of a strategic drive to formalise a clinical academic career structure for SLTs. There are networks developing in other countries, such as the #DrSLPs in Australia, who are encountering (and trying to counter) the same hurdles as us. We discussed how we could reach out to these networks to learn from one another.

The main action following the meeting was to share the discussion and Clinical Academic CEN plans via our networks. We aim to present @ClinAcSLT at the RCSLT Research Champions meeting in July, and will use the blogosphere to link our collective audiences to this post. We will use Twitter to get some feedback on our final proposal and use social media to collect stories from people at various stages of their clinical-academic careers so we can learn from their experiences.

If you are a network-sceptic, as I was, I hope this post will encourage you to reach out. Tweet, blog, connect. The power of networks is empowering. They provide access to expertise and experience regardless of your geographical location or the stage of your journey. They connect you with like-minded people, regardless of your professional and clinical backgrounds. And the collective force of a network can enable change and progress that is beyond the ability of an individual. If you need somewhere to start – try some of the links here. I’ll see you on the web.

@abracabadger 

@abcdlabReading

@volkmer_anna

https://annavolkmersbigphdadventure.wordpress.com

@daisy_project 

@JoWallinger

@AmitSaLT

@Katie_Chadd

@KatieMonnelly 

@HazelRoddam1

@ClinAcSLT

@ReSNetSLT

 

 

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Alien planets and new horizons

alien-planet
Image from Pixabay: “alien planet”

I was planning this blog post under the working title: “One year in”. A descriptive label for a reflective post about the first year of my research fellowship. I used various subtitles to help me plan the content, one of which was ‘new horizons’. A search for pictures using the phrase ‘new horizons’ is how I found the picture at the top of the post. Landing on an ‘Alien planet’ is, in many ways, a metaphor for my experience of entering the realm clinical-academia. Despite impeccable attention to detail when developing my research plan, applying for and securing NIHR funding, and planning every aspect of my fellowship training to the nth degree, I have been surprised by how much of the past year has been unfamiliar and unexpected. I was an NHS clinician for many years. Experienced and practical, I was used to working with a clear set of expectations and completing specific tasks. The move to academia has been a journey of navigating alien territory, learning new skills, and discovering new perspectives.

I thought I had carried out a lot of background work during my clinical academic internship in preparation for applying for and commencing the fellowship. During the the past year I have discovered that my plan was rather two-dimensional; a road map with a starting point, a destination and some simple signposting along the way. I am now discovering that the research landscape is contoured. I can’t always see the end point and there are some interesting (and some terrifying) features along the route that I had’t anticipated in advance. I have had to develop a more dynamic and nuanced model for navigation in order to reach the same destination. A systematic review, as described in a brief paragraph of the fellowship application, seemed like a quite straightforward task at first. It has become a two-headed nemesis, far bigger than anticipated in size and complexity. Once conquered, the review (or reviews) will provide a deeper and more solid understanding of the existing knowledge about user perspectives and patient reported outcomes in alternative and augmentative communication (AAC). The project was developed on the basis of current best practice in AAC combined with a motivation to strengthen the patient voice in service evaluation and development. This last year of reading, learning and discussing (with peers, mentors, supervisors and experts) has led to the development of a new and more detailed theoretical framework based on person-centredness, participatory design and constructs of disability. Exploring these alternative theories and frameworks has enabled me to develop a deeper and clearer understanding of the background to the project. The influence of the expert advisory group has also exceeded that which I had anticipated but has added both strength and integrity to the project. I am developing really valuable relationships with the experts which are challenging the precepts I had of my role as clinician and of researcher. The landscape, support and guidance for navigating my research environment has altered but the changes will add strength to the research project and to my development as a clinical-academic researcher.

Despite having a speech and language therapist’s penchant for stationary, admin has never been my strong suit. Buying a new notebook is no substitute for organisation and this is one of the skills I have had to pay some attention to during the past year. Academia is not just about reading and learning, but about organising papers read into topics, folders and subfolders where they will be readily accessible for use in paper-writing, grant-writing, teaching and learning. Days are not timetabled into clinical sessions and appointments but need to be structured into units of focus: emails, forms, meetings, reading, writing etc. Training is not about attending events and listening to experts impart knowledge but about discussion, challenging opinion, reflection and building networks with people who will help move knowledge forward. Having space to think is a newly-discovered luxury, but thoughts also need organising into frameworks, theories, arguments, backgrounds and further questions; all of which require time, and structure. And then there are the forms. So many forms. Each of which requires a slightly different approach to completion with slightly different requirements for grammar (pronouns, tense), spelling (US/UK) and form (formal/informal). Attention to detail is another area for development. I’m glad I have another four years to work on it. The fellowship demands that I read, think and network broadly while maintaining focus on my research questions and demonstrate due administrative diligence.

I have really appreciated opportunities to meet academics and clinicians with alternative professional backgrounds and therefore perspectives. Networking had never really felt like a valuable activity to undertake during my clinical role where my work environment was fairly monochrome –  a single department of single NHS organisation in a single geographical location  with a single clinical specialism. During the past year I have been able to view a range of new horizons. I can see the greater context for this research project and I can see where networks and collaborations will strengthen the project (and it’s impact) and where the project will support and enhance the work of others. This new perspective has also given me license to slow down, adapt the plan when necessary and to understand more about the opportunities that will add value to my training, the project or health research in general.

I have landed on an alien planet where the terrain is unfamiliar and, at times, unpredictable. I am adapting to this new habitat however. I have developed some new skills concerned with organising my work, my learning and my thinking. These skills are helping me to establish deeper foundations and the project has the potential to more exciting, rewarding and ambitious as a result. The horizon has altered too. I am meeting new people, looking in different directions and becoming more confident about my place (and the place of my research) in this unfamiliar environment. I think I will acclimatise well. Just give me another year, or four!

The ethics of ethics

ethics

In order to carry out research within the NHS, researchers need to secure ethical approval from the Health Research Authority . According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ethical principles governing scientific research ensure that the “dignity, rights, and welfare of research participants” are protected. Health researchers apply to the HRA, providing detailed information about their research plan. The HRA make sure that all research plans are reviewed and approved before participants can be recruited from NHS organisations. The current process covers a range of research studies – from large, multi-site trials involving hundreds or thousands of participants to small-scale PhD projects, such as mine.  I am currently in the midst of trying to secure ethical approval for the first stage of my research – carrying out interviews with people who rely on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) – and have found that the approval process is not particularly accommodating to the needs of people who rely on AAC. I have experienced significant difficulties and delays in securing ethical approval due some particular characteristics of my research population. The current ethical approval process accommodates those who have capacity to read and review textual information about the research project they are being asked to be involved with, and can then sign a consent form. It also allows for recruitment of those who lack capacity to consent, provided ethical standards for recruiting participants are clearly demonstrated (and that recruitment of people who lack consent is necessary in order to address the research question). It is difficult to use the existing ethical approval process to accommodate the needs of people with communication difficulties however. It has been particularly challenging to clearly explain and provide examples of the types of supports and systems that can facilitate the involvement of people who use AAC. I have been led to question whether it is possible to develop a process for ethical approval that is robust enough to cover the range of research projects undertaken in healthcare while being flexible enough to accommodate the individual needs of different populations. Is it ethical to have an exclusive ethical approval process?

The current process for securing ethical approval requires applicants to complete an online form, describing the research project and the process for recruiting participants. The applicant also has to submit the documents that will be used to recruit people to the study. This information is screened to identify whether the study can undergo a ‘proportionate review’ (a remote approval process) or whether it requires a full research ethics committee to review the application. In the case of the latter, the applicant is invited to attend the full committee meeting to respond to queries about the proposal.

I presented the research recruitment documents, in the format advised by the HRA, to my expert group. And they barely looked at it, such was their distain. They reported that there was far too much paper and text, and that the text was still too complicated. “What is a PhD anyway?”, one group member asked. “There are too many words,” said another. Even for the fully literate members of the group, the text-based documents were hard to comprehend and uninspiring. For those will literacy difficulties, there was no chance. I had followed the ‘easy read’ guidance and used simple language, as recommended by the HRA and by my University, but the documents were thrown out of the meeting and I was charged with coming up with a more creative and engaging alternative. At the following meeting, I presented a picture-based resource with an audio-visual summary that can be accessed on YouTube.

BASIC_INFO
Basic information sheet: an example of the participant information resources for The Unspoken Voices Project

The group were much more responsive to these resources and particularly liked the video. There is nowhere on the ethics application form to include links to online tools or audio-visual resources, so I described it in writing in the cover letter.

The application form was submitted via the online system and I was informed that it met the criteria for a ‘proportionate review’. Hoorah! This process, although robust, is usually faster and doesn’t require attendance at a research ethics committee meeting as documents are reviewed by a smaller number of people and queries are asked and responded to via email. It was promptly rejected for proportionate review however and returned on the basis that ‘people who lacked capacity were at risk of being recruited’. Disappointment. Back to the full research ethics committee route. The difference between ‘difficulty communicating’ and ‘difficulty making decisions’ was under the microscope.

One of my expert group agreed to attend the committee meeting with me to demonstrate in person how an individual can have difficulty communicating while maintaining full capacity to make independent decisions and to consent to participate. Jamie uses hi-tech AAC which he accesses with a joystick on his wheelchair. His speech is only understandable to people who know him very well and he has poor fine motor control so is unable to directly access a computer or to write with a pen. Jamie introduced himself, using his AAC, and explained that he could understand but needed time to generate responses. He reported to the committee that the recruitment resources that I had shown to the expert group were clear and that he felt the research was important.

Despite Jamie’s attendance at the meeting, and my expert group’s request to minimise the amount of paperwork sent to potential participants, the feedback from the committee meeting included:

a) that I add space for participants to sign their initials on the consent form.

b) that I add another information sheet to the participant information pack.

I’m not sure we succeeded in breaking down the communication/cognition barrier. Neither did our message get through about the expert group requesting less paperwork, nor did Jamie’s presence demonstrate clearly enough that some participants will not be able to consent in the traditional manner required (i.e. initialing a consent form). Despite following the guidance of the expert group, providing a detailed written explanation of the specific requirements of people who rely on AAC, and Jamies attendance at the ethics committee meeting to justify and clarify the requirement for adjustments in the standard recruitment process, I was still redirected to the standard procedure. Forms, initials, more forms, more description, words, words, words.

The process for securing research ethics is rigorous, and rightly so. There is a remarkable history of unethical research, resulting in significant injury and harm to unsuspecting participants, which has led to the development of national and international charters guiding ethical practice in science. There is also a degree of flexibility in the existing system for securing ethical approval. The availability of a ‘proportionate review’ demonstrates an awareness that not all research will carry the same level of risk to participant’s dignity, welfare or rights. A study asking people questions about their experience of a health service is unlikely to pose the same ethical dilemmas a one trialling new drugs. The current process is not suited to accommodating the needs of specific groups however, particularly those with communication difficulties and even less to people who rely on AAC (and may therefore have additional physical difficulties). The level of detail expected in participant information sheets is overwhelming for many people (not just people with communication difficulties but people with limited literacy, cognitive impairments or learning difficulties too). The requirement for people to sign consent forms excludes people who have physical difficulties. Paper-based, text-heavy resources are of limited value to people with physical difficulties, visual impairments, communication difficulties or cognitive impairments. They are also arguably outdated as the population at large increasingly use visual media to access information. Yet the requirements for demonstrating ethical practice in scientific research continues to rely on access-limiting formats and processes. As a novice researcher, I expected the ethics process to be challenging. Many things are on a first attempt. I was also grateful for the opportunity to revisit my research protocol and really nail down the fine detail of the processes involved in my project. In the context of increasing focus and value placed on patient-public involvement (PPI) and co-design in healthcare research, I was surprised at how little attention was paid to the advice of my expert group during the ethics application process nor to the presence of an expert in the ethics committee meeting. Are the needs of the population being studied not more important that the need to comply with standard practices (e.g. signing consent forms)? I believe that there is scope to develop a more flexible ethical-approval process. Allowing for the submission of creative recruitment resources (e.g.online tools, audio-visual formats) and encouraging the attendance of expert group (PPI) members in the ethics committee meetings (and questioning them directly) to justify adapted methods are two possible mechanisms. A cultural shift in the ethics process towards embracing research that aims to include as many people as possible rather than exclude people who cannot engage with traditional recruitment methods (especially paper and text-based materials) could also encourage creativity and broaden the reach of research projects.

What do you think? Do you research with groups who don’t ‘fit’ in the current ethics process? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences.

 

Clinical academic careers

IMG_2822
Summary drawing of the CAHPR/NIHR event in London on December 8th 2017

The Unspoken Voices Project is funded by a HEE/NIHR clinical doctoral research fellowship. This training programme aims to support allied health professionals (AHPs), nurses and midwives to develop as clinical-academic researchers. That is, to be able to continue to work as clinicians in the NHS whilst carrying out research that is relevant to NHS services and patients. One of the reasons that it is thought to be a good idea for clinicians to be engaged with research is because research-active health organisations get better outcomes for patients. The fellowship programme has already provided me with some fantastic opportunities to network with other clinical-academics and to learn about how research can have an impact on healthcare (see TEDx NHS, Conference season). One of the challenges facing the NHS is that there currently aren’t established career frameworks within health organisations that enable clinicians to combine clinical practice with research. I have been reflecting recently on what is happening both locally and nationally, and what more needs to happen, in order to change this so that I (and other trainees like me) can continue in a clinical-academic career after the fellowship has ended.

I attended a meeting with colleagues at the University of Gloucestershire (UoG) at the beginning of December. They are looking to broaden their research portfolio, to work more closely with healthcare providers, and to develop the teaching and training programme that they offer social- and health-care workers. Although UoG don’t currently have AHP trainees in their student population, the health and social care team are keen to expand their offer as well as to find areas of overlap with local research-interested clinicians. It was a really positive experience to be in a room of people trying to find common ground and to build relationships that will expand horizons for all parties. I was reminded how, within healthcare, we often embed ourselves within clinical areas, teams or specialties. It can be difficult for some people to see beyond the opportunities provided within their immediate work environment. The same could be true in trying to develop a clinical-academic career. I am in the fortunate/unfortunate position that my host University is 200 miles away and there are no local Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with Speech and Language Therapy training courses. This has the potential to be both a barrier to developing a clinical-academic career, and an opportunity to look beyond my immediate milieu. My UoG colleagues and I focused on areas of shared interest (e.g. research methods, building bridges between health research and healthcare providers) and possibilities for future collaboration that will benefit all parties (e.g. teaching, building training courses). I was grateful to meet people who recognised the skills that I am developing as a research fellow and saw beyond my professional label or clinical background.

I was invited to present my clinical academic journey to a meeting in London in December. The aim of the day was to consider how the NHS can develop sustainable AHP research careers. We heard presentations about how the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and their Clinical Research Networks (CRNs) are developing the support that they provide AHPs to enter into a career as a clinical academic. A podiatrist collegue and I were interviewed about the highs and lows of our paths into clinical-academic training. Representatives from Solent and from Sheffield health communities provided some possible frameworks for developing clinical-academic pathways, about which the delegates discussed the strengths and limitations. The over-arching theme of the meeting was that, currently, clinical-academic careers are ‘non-linear’. AHPs move between clinical and academic opportunities and there is no standard framework for a career that bridges healthcare provision with research activity.  Clinical-academic careers frequently depend on tenacity and courage of an individual. There are heartening developments within strategic NHS bodies to bolster clinical acaedmic careers in future. Significant hurdles continue to be the financial pressure on middle-managers and the lack of a mandate for them to develop such posts.

One of my concerns on entering the NIHR fellowship programme was that I couldn’t see where it would lead me. My modus operandi is as a goal-focussed planner, so I found the lack of a clear pathway post-fellowship was unnerving. As a clinician in the NHS, there is a route you follow when developing clinically, followed by a route into management. There was no obvious job in the existing clinical-managerial NHS career development framework that having a PhD would qualify me to do. Neither is there a clear clinical-academic career framework. What my experiences with UoG and at the workshop in London have taught me is that I need to seek out opportunities, build relationships, look beyond traditional boundaries and expectations, learn from those who have forged their own paths ahead of me and, ultimately, build my own clinical academic career. And then to help others to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engaging the experts

Group members
Some of the motley crew who make up my expert group

Follow an engaging day at the Lab4Living one day conference Sheffield in September, I considered whether I could take a more creative and collaborative approach with my expert advisory group. I was inspired by the methods of co-design that were presented at the conference as well as the imaginative mechanisms that people used to interpret their experience of healthcare, research or both.  This post features some of the methods  I am adopting to develop a co-design approach to my research project, specifically managing my expert group meetings.

During my inaugural expert panel meeting in July, one of the main themes that emerged from group discussions was that all the information I provided – relating to both the group meeting and the research – was too wordy. As a speech and language therapist, I am acutely aware of reducing my language dependence during clinical sessions and often use pictures and drawing to support explanation, information sharing and therapy. Outside of the clinic however, and arguably in healthcare in general, there is still an over-reliance on the written word – note keeping, report writing, appointment letters, information booklets, worksheets… etc. I used some of the methods that I learnt about at the Lab4Living conference, along with feedback from the group, to shift the focus of my most recent expert group meeting away from the written word towards other media used for communicating.

Pictures: I used images to annotate the agenda, I produced some pictures to support the development of a logo for the project and we took pictures of people present so we can add them to the minutes (see some of the smiley faces at the top of this post!).

Agenda_Pg1_PDF                 Drawings_PPI

Videos: I produced a “talking-head” of me reading a summary of the minutes of the last meeting. I also used a programme called “Screencast-o-matic” to create an audio-visual participant information sheet. This can be uploaded to YouTube and shared as a link.

Activities: Rather than relying on people’s verbal responses, I developed activities that enabled people to use other means of communicating preferences. I used lego to enable people to vote for images that they liked for the logo and rating scales to gather their opinions about the recruitment resources that I had produced.

Jamie_logo

 

As a result of these changes, the meeting had a very different energy with less focus on me talking and more on the expert’s opinions. The experts were better able to engage in providing feedback through practical activities and were very positive in their responses to the materials I had produced. They were able to provide both specific and general criticisms of the participant information materials as watching the screencast gave them time to prepare responses. One participant was very positive about the screencast and felt that my slow and clear commentary of the images resulted in him having a good understanding of the information provided. He stated that he wished all information could be presented like this. I enjoyed being creative in the methods that I used during the group and look forward to preparing for future meetings by building on the successes of this one.

How do you like to digest information? What do you use to engage people’s opinions in a creative way? Should we be aiming towards a paperless, word-light health service? Let me know your thoughts.

Conference season

AAATE_square_white

I am sat at my desk following the activity of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapist‘s conference on Twitter. There is a great energy being projected from the attendees and the organisers and I can’t help but feel sad that I’m missing out. I have connected with many therapists and researchers via Twitter over the past year, several of them whom I know will be at the conference. It would have been a great opportunity to meet up in person and put faces to names and Twitter handles. Watching the proceedings from a distance does provide me with the opportunity to reflect on my own conference-going experiences of the last month however. I was fortunate to attend both the AAATE (Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe) and a Lab4Living one day event in Sheffield. There is much that conference attendance offers an aspiring clinical-academic, but I wonder how the learning outcomes are translated to professional practice and academic development?

The AAATE conference, held in Sheffield in mid-September, gave me the opportunity to share my research plan with professionals working across assistive technologies (AT) in healthcare, from around the globe. During the conference I became much more aware of the research activity of the healthcare community in Sheffield (my academic home) and was also able to connect with people from other countries. There is some really interesting work happening in Canada within the Agewell group looking at using AT to support rehabilitation and ageing. AT encompass connected healthcare, digital technologies, environmental controls, wheelchairs, robotics as well as AAC. The conference was an opportunity for me to view my project through a much wider lens and to understand where there are areas of overlap between  research in the field of AAC and that happening in areas concerning other AT. I was becoming very focused on the detail of my own research project towards the end of the summer and the AAATE conference was an opportunity to look up and around at the bigger landscape in which I am working. The level of interest in my project during the conference was reassuring, I was asked questions which have helped me reflect and refine aspects of the research and I learnt a lot about developments in the field of AAC specifically and AT more broadly.

I went back to Sheffield the following week to attend a day conference called ‘Intersections of practice’ organised by Lab4Living, which is a collaboration between Art and Design and Health and Social Care at Sheffield Hallam University. This event provided a different perspective on healthcare and health research, more specifically the benefits of co-design. I learnt that the design process is intrinsically collaborative; ideas, concepts, and prototypes evolve through a process of discussion amongst stakeholders, modelling and then remodelling. Presentations from a range of people demonstrated where creativity has transformed aspects healthcare at either an individual, service or an organisational level. I reflected on how a more creative, collaborative approach could improve the way I organise my expert group meetings. The day inspired me to make the group more active in order that we could all get more out of the process of working together and ‘co-designing’ the research project.

Conferences are a fantastic opportunity to network with people, to champion my research project and to understand more about the research field in which I am operating. They are energising and exhausting in equal measure. They have helped me focus on my research and they have blown open a world of possibilities and potentials. I have been able to learn a lot from following the RCSLT conference proceedings on Twitter too. It doesn’t replace the experience of being there in person but Twitter does enable me to catch up on the highlights and participate in some of the discussions from a distance. Conference attendance is for a small and privileged minority, however. I am acutely aware, from years of clinical experience in the NHS, that attending conferences is rarely an opportunity many clinicians enjoy.  Much of the content of conferences is concerned with cutting edge research, possibly years away from being a clinical reality. Sometimes having a view on the bigger picture can help provide a context for our existing reality however, and that insight into that context should be available more widely. As a clinical academic, I feel responsible for communicating my conference experience into a form that is useful and engaging for my clinical colleagues. Ultimately, the knowledge, skills and inspiration shared at conferences needs to be translated into clinical practice in order for it to be of value to our patients, clients and service users.

I’d welcome any thoughts on mechanisms for conference transference!

 

TEDxNHS – Inspired by people

TEDxNHS

I was lucky enough to be successful in securing a ticket to attend this year’s TEDxNHS event in London on 15th August. The event is designed to bring together people who work for the NHS; to share stories, experiences and innovations that both celebrate and inspire the workforce. And inspire it did.

The event was held at Wilton’s Music Hall in East London; a fabulously restored theatre styled with worn-plaster walls and vintage decor.  The organising team had secured a variety of sponsors who provided a range of refreshments both during the breaks and in the ‘goody’ bags. It made a refreshing change to attend an NHS event in a stylish venue with good food and drink as appose to the usual hospital training room with BYO sandwiches and lukewarm tea. Easy as it is to condemn such details as frivolous during the current period of austerity – I welcomed the effort of organising team to find a beautiful and unique venue. It really enhanced the overall feeling of the event being a celebration of the attendees.

The programme was arranged into three sections, each with its own theme: ‘Rising to the challenge’, ‘Empowering the mind’ and ‘Embracing the unknown’. Themes consisted of a range of speakers, performers and videos, each representing a unique experience of healthcare in the NHS. Speakers had 10 minutes for their presentations, which maintained the pace of the day and kept the audience engaged. Performances of music, poetry and magic by people who either had professional experience in the NHS, or were people with disabilities and had therefore relied on NHS care, provided opportunities to reflect or relax during the energetic programme. Videos of previous TED talks also offered moments of light-hearted diversion from what, at times, was some quite emotive content.

The speakers represented an impressive portfolio of skills and experience. They consisted of medics, service users, a nurse, an NHS CEO, a parent, a designer and a police sergeant. Their presentations each told a personal story. Some speakers shared tales of developing health services, others offered accounts of intimate and at times heart-rending health events that had affected them. It was hard not to be both moved and inspired by the events that they described but also in their resolve to share their stories to improve the experience of others. The resounding theme amongst the speaker’s narratives was their passion and how this fuels them either professionally, personally or both. I most certainly left feeling #inspiredbypeople.

What really stood out for me about the day was the range of healthcare issues, experiences and innovations that were showcased. In such a large organisation it is easy to loose sight of what is happening outside of individual departments and teams. There is a fantastic array of activities happening in any one Trust on any given day but as employees we rarely get the opportunity to learn about them, let alone celebrate them. There are also many similarities in the challenges that face groups of professions, teams and services. There is much we can learn from the innovations of others but we can also learn from their adversity.  My only disappointment about the event was the lack of Allied Health Professionals on the programme. I would like to see representation from AHPs in future events as I know that we would have much to add to such a dynamic and inspiring programme. I would highly recommend this event to anyone working in the NHS; it certainly achieves, and at times surpasses, what it sets out to do.