Communication skills are an important part of the role. A clinical academic will publish their research findings in high impact journals and develop a national and international reputation in their chosen field. You would present your work at conferences to your peers. You may well introduce your research into your own clinical practice and become an advocate for new ideas.
Teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate students is an important part of this role. To many this is very rewarding, as you oversee the development of future colleagues. Senior posts in academic dentistry will require organisational and leadership skills. If you aspire to the higher clinical academic posts, you must therefore acquire skills in three areas: research, teaching and clinical practice.
Clinical academics may be employed either full-time or part-time. The workload is often split between NHS secondary care practice, research, and undergraduate teaching. However, there is variation in academic contracts, which may be either predominantly teaching or research focussed. At the same time there will be clinical practice.
Undergraduate teaching will be done mainly in teaching hospitals that are attached to a university. Postgraduate teaching may involve the training of junior staff, the supervision of research projects for a higher degree by thesis such as a master’s or doctorate, or by participation in formal postgraduate courses and refresher courses.
There are also a small number of academic staff who are full-time research workers in the field of basic dental science.
A PhD is an internationally recognised qualification, and this allows full-time clinical academics and researchers to gain a substantive post in academia. Clinical academics are also required to complete some level of NHS-recognised clinical competency. Those involved in clinical teaching only may be able to hold a post with NHS clinical qualifications alongside a teaching qualification. The pursuit of a higher degree adds time to the training pathway. However, the range of leadership opportunities that arise following promotion are exciting and are not normally available to those following traditional clinical pathways.
Senior clinical academics are required to hold honorary NHS contracts to enable them to provide direct patient care. The honorary contract also determines the salary a clinical academic is paid. Clinical academics must be able to show the appropriate qualifications and competencies that would entitle them to be employed in that post.
The career pathways for honorary Specialist Trainee, Specialty Dentist, and Consultant posts are illustrated on other pages in this section. For clinical academics wishing to perform research or ultimately to achieve higher leadership positions within a university, a PhD will also be required.
Appointees to professorships are expected to have demonstrated the ability to stimulate others to undertake research. They will have also been successful in publishing high impact papers and gaining research funding to underpin their activities. Leadership qualities are also required to run a university department or school.
To become an academic you need to qualify, do DFT/VT, get your MFDS or MJDF, and then embark on clinical training to match your NHS consultant colleagues. In addition, obtaining a PhD is an essential ingredient if you wish to follow a full-time career and this can be part of your clinical training. You may elect to do this on a full-time basis if you are fortunate to obtain an academic training fellowship. General advice is to seek out an academic mentor who will assist in advising you on the best path to follow.
To find out more about working in academic dentistry and research, read the BDA Career Guide.