Jane Wilcock - Active Researcher

Jane talks about her research as part of the Research Engagement Hub.

There were no research or publication opportunities offered when I was at medical school or while I was a GP trainee. Nevertheless, my passion for research enabled me to pursue opportunities.

In 2010, I resigned as a partner and went part-time. As I was in my 50s and felt no-one would want to employ me in an academic role, in my 60s, I applied to a university. I took up a salaried part-time post, which meant that in the summer student holidays, I experienced curricular development and assessments within a medical school. My post expanded over 8 years. It evolved from being solely a GP tutor, to include roles as a curriculum lead and an assessment lead. I left in 2019, mainly because the roles were not developing.

I have been able to create a balance and continue to contribute to primary care, and its discussions, through education and research. I hope that you will personalise your own routes which are now far more explicit and numerous.

Teaching and training

I initially trained medical students and GP specialty trainees in my practice. Having enjoyed the experience, I thereafter explored group teaching. I was an undergraduate group tutor at my local university. For years, I was also a primary care medical educator, who facilitated the GP trainee day release course for the North West Deanery.

During an online course for my medical education certificate, I was able to compare theories of my own, against those educationally accepted. I was encouraged by a tutor to publish and so, wrote several educational journal articles. This increased my skills in library searches and critical thinking.

Research project

I fell into ‘pure research’ as chair of the RCGP Overdiagnosis Group. This group came about when me and a few GP colleagues exchanged emails bemoaning the spike in GP flucloxacillin prescriptions during the summer. We wondered whether it was due to infected insect bites. There was no primary care literature, so I suggested four strands of research for the group.

This was the first time we would have a research output. Two strands came to fruition and fused. We had nine authors, who ranged from GP professors, NHS librarians to medical students. We created a questionnaire and literature search and had 180 replies from GPs.

At the time, this study was the only primary care study in the world. Fortunately, a general GP update journal agreed to publish our study. Though it was disappointing to not be in a journal searchable on PubMed® or MEDLINE (indexed journal), we were still pleased. Since then, to our delight, it was used as the basis of a Pulse article on insect bites and in the evidence review section of NICE NG ‘Insect bites and stings guidance: antimicrobial prescribing’.

We wrote a BMJ Practice Pointer, which became the cover of the edition. So, through the time and skills given by a few GPs and colleagues, general practice evidence moved up a step. The RCGP has an e-library to search through for relevant literature.

Research colleagues

The HRA process was new to me, and as few GPs currently undertake practice-based research, there was a learning process for National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) in facilitating the progress of my IRAS (Integrated Research Application System) forms. The groups I sought help from; RCGP Research, NIHR and RCGP were all supportive and helpful. I have now met several GPs, HCPs, and secondary care specialists, who are interested in practice-based research.

Recently I ran a study on the use of oximetry in COVID-19 with a GP partner, secondary care foundation academic colleague and a friend. It started even before the government and NHS England had made any moves in this direction, and garnered important findings. It is currently a preprint, undergoing review. My research, and that of my colleagues, is done in our own time, I am on ResearchGate with a research interest over 50% of all researchers and over 59% of general practice researchers. Our systematic review has been cited many times, so I am successful in research profile terms.

Research advice

Set out with a clear research question and think about how you want to answer it. Check that your practice accords with your proposed activity. Identify your Caldicott Guardian and who would be your practice sponsor (could be a senior partner or the practice manager, provided they are independent of you in governance for the study). You are the chief investigator.

Think about which journal you would like to publish in if the findings are of wide interest. Decide if you are willing to pay for open access, online publishing or not. There may be funding from your local RCGP Faculty, RCGP Research, CCG and NIHR groups. NIHR will have a primary care research lead and your local CCG will have one too. NIHR have a study design service too, with possible funding streams.

Publication is free, if the abstract only is available online and the full study text sits behind the journal’s paywall. If you are passionate about open access, it is about £2,000-£3,000, but is tax deductible as a professional expense. Initially, go to HRA decision tools, and see if your study is an audit, quality improvement (QI) or research project. Contact your local NIHR office and speak to a research supporter.

Like any process, repetition improves experience, be patient and good luck with your research. I would love to hear from you - email me.

About the writer

Jane Wilcock is a GP, based in Salford, Jane became interested in academic general practice as a trainer of medical students and GP specialty trainees. She gained her research skills through supervising and marking undergraduate MRes projects. This led to Jane starting her own research outputs, initially by writing posters for RCGP Conference.

Jane currently conducts active research in her large practice of 12,300 patients. She considers herself academic and urges others to undertake publishable, independent research projects to help the growing need for primary care data.

To read more research case studies, visit the Research Engagement Hub.