Saba Raza-Knight

Developing the PIs of the future

The Associate Principal Investigator (PI) Scheme aims to develop doctors and other health professionals to become the PIs of the future.

It’s run by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and endorsed by the Royal Colleges and provides formal recognition of engagement in NIHR-endorsed research studies. Associate PIs work alongside experienced researchers for six months on a study and complete a learning pathway to earn certified status.

More than 20 NCA doctors from a range of specialties have either completed the scheme or have signed up to take part, with many involved in important Covid-19 studies.

Dr Katy Dodd from Salford Royal worked on the Covid-19 Clinical Neuroscience study, looking at the biological causes of neurological and neuropsychiatric complications in hospitalised Covid-19 patients. She said: “The NIHR Associate Principal Investigator scheme has been a valuable opportunity to better understand the running of a large-scale study, and has helped me to build relationships with, and better understanding of, the local research network. It provides a structured framework for becoming involved in research, with the added benefit of formal recognition. This has provided me with the confidence, knowledge and skills to take on the role of PI in future projects.”

New skills

Dr Jonathon Shaw was also involved in Covid-19 research at the Royal Oldham Hospital. He said: “Working as an associate PI on the RECOVERY trial has been a great learning experience for me. It has given me first-hand experience of how a clinical trial is conducted and allowed me to develop new skills which will be carried forward for the rest of my career. The Oldham research team have been fantastic and I’m grateful for the opportunity they have given me.”

The RECOVERY trial also provided an opportunity for Dr Tom Scoones to extend his knowledge of research. “I have been involved in several research studies as a sub-investigator, however working as an Associate PI on the RECOVERY trial at North Manchester General Hospital has been the most beneficial and rewarding for me. This has allowed me to develop my understanding and skills of how a major study is run alongside the site Principal Investigator. The structure with which the Aassociate PI scheme helps you to extend your role beyond patient screening and recruitment has given me more confidence and knowledge on how I can participate in other studies in the future,” he explained.

Supportive environment

And Dr Sean Knight, Specialist Registrar in respiratory medicine at Salford Royal, said: “The NIHR Associate PI scheme provided me with an opportunity to lead the implementation of an urgent public health badged study in a supportive environment. I gained a valuable skill set that I have been able to use to lead other studies since. I would strongly recommend the programme to any clinicians looking for experience in clinical research.”

While many API colleagues have worked on  Covid research, studies across nearly 30 specialties are part of the scheme, including cancer, children and young people, stroke, ageing, and trauma and emergency care.

Neurosurgery trainee Dr Saba Raza-Knight joined the scheme as part of the CARE study, which is addressing the effectiveness of active treatment (with neurosurgery or stereotactic radiosurgery) versus conservative management in people with symptomatic brain cavernoma (a cluster of abnormal blood vessels).

She said: “It has given me an insight into the practicalities of recruiting patients to surgical randomised clinical trials, where equipoise can be difficult to explain. It also gave me the opportunity to become more involved with the research team.”

Anaesthetist in training Dr Joshua Strange said the scheme gave him valuable insight into what goes on behind the scenes in running a clinical trial. “I found it useful to be more involved in actively recruiting and helping share information about the trial with colleagues on the shop floor,” he said.

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