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Pursuing a career in clinical research

There is growing evidence that the engagement of clinicians and organisations in research can improve healthcare performance and deliver better patient care outcomes.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) strategy (2021) prioritises clinical research as ‘the single most important way in which we improve our healthcare by identifying the best means to prevent, diagnose, and treat conditions’. This is particularly the case for paediatric palliative care, where there is an urgent need to improve the evidence base.

Healthcare professionals working in the sector are ideally situated to engage and develop research careers to address some of the most pressing research questions in paediatric palliative care. This resource aims to provide you with the necessary information to support you to begin that journey.

Where to start?

Embarking on a research career in paediatric palliative care may seem daunting. As a starting point, why not watch the recording of a webinar hosted by the Collaborative Paediatric Palliative Care Research (CoPPAR) Network on research careers? The webinar features case studies of healthcare professionals with a range of backgrounds who have gone on to have research careers, and it includes a useful summary of available funding pathways.

When thinking about a research career it may be useful to ask the fundamental question of ‘what is research and why is it important to paediatric palliative care?’ This webinar provides a useful overview and answer to this question, including a useful breakdown of what is meant by terms such as ‘research’, ‘audit’, ‘service evaluation’ and ‘quality improvement’.


There are many different funding opportunities available for healthcare professionals working in paediatric palliative care to support a clinical research career.

The type of funding that is suitable and the funder to apply to will dependent on your clinical role and the stage you are at in your research career. Below we outline and provide website links to two of the main funding programmes/pathways likely to be available to you.

The NIHR Integrated Academic Training Pathway (Doctors and Dentists)

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is the main government funding body that funds research and also funds the development of both clinical and non-clinical academic careers.

The NIHR Academy is responsible for the development and coordination of the NIHR academic training, career development and research capacity development. It offers a defined academic training pathway that Doctors and Dentists can use to develop their clinical academic careers.

NIHR fellowship Programme

The NIHR also offer a Fellowship Programme that aims to support individuals on their trajectory to becoming future leaders in health and social care NIHR research.

The programme consists of four fellowships that have been designed to support individuals at various points of their development in becoming leading researchers, from initial pre-doctoral training to senior post-doctoral research. All can be funded at the clinical salary of the applicant.

  1. Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. Launch date: Late January/February annually.
    The purpose of this award is to support the applicant to develop a PhD proposal and where relevant undertake masters level training. It also provides the time to undertake key tasks such as identifying a host institution and supervisory team and developing a research question. You can find further guidance on the latest funding round here.
  2. Development and Skills Enhancement Award. Launch dates: January, May, September annually.
    The purpose of this award is to support individuals to gain specific skills and experience to support the next phase of their research career. You can find further guidance on the Development and Skills Enhancement award here.
  3. Doctoral Fellowship. Launch dates: April, October annually
    The Doctoral Fellowship is a three-year full-time award that supports individuals to undertake a PhD in applied health or social care research. This fellowship may also be taken up on a part-time basis of between 50% and 100% whole time equivalent (WTE). Clinical applicants can include up to 20% clinical time as part of the fellowship, to ensure the maintenance of their clinical competence whilst undertaking the fellowship. You can find out more about Doctoral Fellowships here.
  4. Advanced Fellowship. Launch dates April, October annually
    The Advanced Fellowship is for those at a post-doctoral level and can be utilized at several specific points of a researcher’s career development. The fellowship is between 2 and 5 years and can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis-between 50% and 100% whole time equivalent (WTE). Advanced Fellowships will be available with a ‘clinical academic’ option, whereby clinical applicants will have the option to request up to 40% of their time be dedicated to clinical service/development which would be covered by the award. You can find out more about Advanced Fellowships here.

HEE-NIHR Integrated Clinical and Practitioner Academic Programme

The Integrated Clinical and Practitioner Academic Programme is for nurses and allied health professionals and any other health and social care professionals the NIHR partner with Health Education England. Within this programme exists three different awards catered to the stage of the applicant’s research career. All can be funded at the clinical salary of the applicant.

  1. Pre-Doctoral Clinical Practitioner and Academic Fellowship (PCAF)
    Funds a personalized programme of academic training that equip awardees with the skills and experience to access doctoral-level funding, and give dedicated time to prepare an application for a competitive, peer-reviewed doctoral level research training fellowship. You can find out more about the PCAF here.
  2. Doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (DCAF)
    Funds registered healthcare professionals to undertake a PhD by research and, concurrently, to undertake further professional development and clinical practice. The award is for three years (up to six years part time) approximately 80% of which will be spent working academically over the course of the fellowship. The remaining 20% of fellowship hours will be spent devoted to practice and professional development. You can find out more about the DCAF here.
  3. Advanced Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (ACAF)
    The HEE/NIHR ICA Advanced Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (ACAF) supports post-doctoral researchers to develop their academic career whilst developing their health or care career. You can find out more about the ACAF here.

Other funding opportunities

Outside of the funding pathways outlined, there are also other funding opportunities available.

The Wellcome Trust offer several funding opportunities to develop your research career.

The UK Research and Innovation Medical Research Council also offer funding opportunities.

This resource is produced by the CoPPAR network funded by the NIHR, you can find out more about CoPPAR here