New government-endorsed PhD pathway for GPs in training

Morgan Liotta

22/11/2022 4:45:16 PM

The RACGP has announced its 2023 academic post cohort, as well as more support for GPs in training who want to pursue a PhD.

Two young doctors in training
The RACGP hopes a newly developed PhD pathway will better support GPs in training when completing their academic post.

The Department of Health and Aged Care (DoH) has endorsed an RACGP proposal to establish a specialised PhD Academic Post pathway for GPs in training.
The new development means GPs in training who are already undertaking a PhD – or have a strong interest in commencing PhD study – will have a clearer path towards completion, after previous research showed a discrepancy between doctors in general practice and other specialities.  
Some studies also cite a lack of awareness regarding the potential to become involved in general practice academia, resulting in doctors interested in clinician-academic careers choosing specialties other than general practice.
However, the new DoH endorsement means the RACGP can formalise the pathway for the 2024 academic post cohort, which will see up to two PhD Academic Posts awarded among the total of 20 posts per year.
New RACGP Fellow and 2018 academic post graduate Dr Dan Epstein recently completed his PhD and has previously advocated for better pathways to support GPs in training.
‘It was a great experience,’ he told newsGP. ‘I was able to use my post to upskill in research and thinking around complex issues, asking and answering questions I had formed during my clinical work.
‘[But] there is no real monetary career incentive for GPs to do a PhD, which is slightly different to other hospital-based specialties.
‘So clear pathways are important to provide expertise in primary care research, which is where most of the medicine actually happens, but the [fewest amount of] researcher–clinicians exist.
‘The academic post can be a great simple test to see if you are interested in research and teaching and can give you the skills and contacts to launch into a PhD if you so choose to afterwards.’
The new pathway’s participants will be enrolled in a PhD concurrently with the AGPT Academic Post Program and utilise their post to pursue their PhD study. Successful applicants will focus primarily on research and have fewer, or no, teaching responsibilities.
And given general practice is such a broad medical discipline, research topics can vary widely – as Dr Epstein’s own ‘left-of-centre’ PhD attests.
‘It breaches different areas of pandemics, behavioural economics and even game design,’ he explained.
‘I ran a randomised control trial of a tabletop card game I made to incentivise and educate kids about vaccines and improve vaccine confidence. It was an amazing experience for me to hone skills, think about behaviour change and work on some impactful work.’

Dr-Dan-Epstein-article-1.jpgDr Dan Epstein, who recently completed both his academic post term and his PhD.
Embarking on his project before the emergence of COVID, Dr Epstein found he could rely on his existing skills as a clinician/researcher in this space, once the pandemic began.
‘I found myself being quite useful and having interesting conversations and being involved with teams in government and industry early in the pandemic response … it was really interesting work,’ he said.
Successful applicants for the 2023 Academic Post Program, which runs from January 2023 – January 2024, have recently been announced. Recipients will design their own individual research plans and learning programs that build on their interests, with the 2023 cohort including a wide range of clinical topics.
For Dr Epstein, he plans to continue to draw from his academic post and PhD experiences to inform his future pursuits on improving clinical decision making.
‘I am very interested in designing and implementing innovative ways to improve behaviours, critical thinking and decision making,’ he said.
‘So, I am going to spend time working on some tools to improve institutional decision making. This is a bit broader than the healthcare context but being interested in about how decisions shape our health led me down this path.
‘I am always thinking of interesting questions – that is the easy part, finding out how to explore and answer them is the hard part.’
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