I became a doctor in 2009 – something that I have always wanted to be since I was in primary school. I couldn’t wait to use my knowledge and skills to improve patients’ lives. But quite often, I couldn’t do what I had promised. I was often struck by how poorly our healthcare systems responded to the challenges of people with mental illness, especially in protecting their physical health needs. So I ended up asking myself: if I cannot help my patients, why am I doing this? I chose to leave practice and went on with more training in public health and long-term conditions. This led me to research, with the ambition to explore how I could make a difference.
Research opened a new world for me.
I started my journey with a PhD funded by the University of Leeds, where I then spent another 5 years for my post-doc. Mentored by Profs Bennett, Foy, McGowan and Closs, I looked at various gaps between theory and practice. I approached this by developing and evaluating complex health interventions in primary and palliative care settings for better services and patient outcomes.
To further develop my research and funding, I subsequently went to work as a senior researcher at Newcastle University. I worked jointly between the NIHR ARC (Applied Research Collaboration) and AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) in the North East of England, where health inequalities are higher and general health is poor. My first project here was to gather evidence to inform how lipids management can be optimised for underserved populations, especially those socioeconomically disadvantaged in the region. Mental health was very much associated with everything that goes on in their daily lives. This project effectively plugged me into key individuals and organisations regionally and nationally who are actively working together to support underserved populations during the pandemic. It also motivated me to focus on making a difference in health services for underserved populations. Funded by the NIHR, I began my first PI project on establishing culturally competent services.
I use mixed methods to help answer my research questions. This includes routinely collected healthcare records that allow me to explore clinical pathways and associated outcomes, and to identify gaps in services received. I also talk to people every day about my research, including patients, members of the public, university students and academics, service providers, and commissioners. I encourage them to think about issues around them and how they want to see the services in the future.
These conversations and collaborations ensure my projects are patient-centred and evidence-based, driven by the views and preferences of the people the services serve. Therefore, the outputs are more likely to be acceptable and effective.
A lot of people that I talked to find it hard to believe the fact that I have left practice, given I have been trained for so many years. But I never feel that I’ve left my patients. I am providing them with better services in a different way – through research.