Zarrin Shaikh’s first blog

It’s hard to discuss this year without mentioning Modernising Medical Careers. I was one of the unlucky members of “the lost tribe” that were stung very badly. I’m a clinical research fellow working at the Royal Brompton Hospital.
Technically I’ve completed 1 and a half years as a cardiology registrar (LAT), and my intended specialty is cardiology.Having not been shortlisted for a Cardiology ST3 in any of my units of application, for the first time in my career I was left without a plan. Amid the hysteria, advice was sparse, inconsistent and based on hearsay. It seemed my only hope of continuing a career in medicine rested on my performance at the guaranteed rescue interview.

It was at this point that I was offered a research post at the Royal Brompton Hospital. The project sounded fascinating, funding was available for 18 months, the department I would be working with had a fantastic reputation and it was close to home. It sounded perfect. Perfect, except for the fact that I was informed quite consistently that I would not be able to then re-enter clinical medicine. Faced with the unnerving prospect of committing career suicide, I had a very difficult decision to make. In the end, it was the desire for stability after living a nomadic existence that lead me to accept the research post.

I used to have a well constructed interview response to why research is important for clinicians, but it is only now that I fully understand the answer. It is the first time I have really thought for myself outside the constraints of a timetable, a bleep, clinics and inpatients. My learning curve has been exponential. When I’m not working on my current study, I spend my time reading journals (and not purely skimming the abstracts), learning new investigative techniques, meeting fascinating people and designing protocols for future studies.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been easy. I still feel very much out of my comfort zone. There is no instant gratification in research. This often leaves me feeling that I’ve made no progress. An idea can take months or years to develop into a study which then may or may not produce the expected answer. Grant writing is a finely tuned art form that for the novice is a difficult and lengthy process. Ethical approval is another hurdle to overcome. Although frustrating at times all these elements form part of the challenge of research. I was recently told by an eminent professor that when everyone is going in one direction, the best course of action is to go the opposite way. It has been a really hard year, but I’m pleased to say that after a few narrowly avoided crash-landings, I think I have landed on my feet.