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Ben Fletcher, DPhil student at the University of Oxford. Ben’s DPhil investigates home blood pressure monitoring and drug titration in hypertension using both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

I was excited to be awarded the NIHR SPCR place on the Transdisciplinary Understanding and Training on Research in Primary Health Care (TUTOR-PHC) programme for 2015-16.  TUTOR-PHC has been running since 2003 with the goal of training a “cadre of PHC researchers who are able and ready to tackle current and future challenges in PHC and to lead a collaborative interdisciplinary PHC research” (Stewart et al 2014).  The SPCR sends a representative each year.

I know last year’s trainee Grace Moran well from my time at Birmingham.  I contacted Grace when I was applying and she told me that it had been a really rewarding experience, and encouraged me to apply (both for academic reasons as well as the venue and food!)

We started on the first evening with an ice-breaker event.  We were each provided with a checklist with a number of unique facts about trainees and mentors and had to identify as many people as we could.  I managed to find all of my facts pretty quickly which led to me winning the first of the symposium’s awards (a chocolate treat!).  The first evening set the tone for the rest of the week, with everyone, trainees and mentors alike, getting to know each other well.

The venue at Kingsbridge (just outside Toronto) was the perfect place for a symposium.  The food was excellent, and ever present, which led to me drinking far too much coffee and eating too many muffins!  The hotel and conference centre was in the centre of a beautiful park, with running tracks through woodland and following streams.  It was nice to be able to spend 45 minutes each day to unwind by having a run.

Anyway, enough of the travel blog and on to the training!  Our first morning was spent defining primary health care (PHC), which was particularly useful from a UK perspective where the focus is often on primary care not PHC.  Later in the morning we were able to present our own research to a small group of trainees, with each person commenting on what their discipline could add to that project.  As a PhD student, this kind of interaction is always incredibly important, as it is easy to get tunnel vision with your project.  I find discussing my project with people outside my field often leads me to think about things in exciting new ways.

On the first day each mentor presented some of their work in a poster session.  There was a lot of inspiring and novel research on view, and for me it was really interesting to see what primary care research looks like outside the UK.

The second day started with a methodology morning and then in the afternoon, in our small groups, we began to think about our major topic for later in the year – developing a bid in response to a “Request for Proposals” (RFP).  In our team we had to decide on a topic area relevant to the RFP, and then to refine our question.  Later in the year we will as a team focus on the study design, sample, data collection methods, analysis plan, etc. and put together the final proposal.  I think for many of the trainees, myself included, this will be our first encounter putting together a large proposal as part of a multidisciplinary team.  How we manage the bid, deal with conflict, and bring everything together at the end will be a valuable learning experience.

The final day was spent thinking about engagement with policy makers and thinking about knowledge translation.  Again this was useful for me, as a methodologist I often think too much about the research itself, and place less emphasis on communicating the message and finding out what is important for policy makers.

Overall I found the week to be a very enjoyable experience (if exhausting!), mainly due to the welcoming and nurturing environment of the mentors and the enthusiasm of my fellow trainees. Graham Reid, one of the mentors, stated on the first day that everyone should check their ego at the front door; and it really felt like this was the case with trainees and mentors working towards the same goals.  I look forward to my continuing involvement in the programme, and meeting up with my fellow trainees and mentors in the future.

I will post a second blog at the end of the year of on-line work to share my experiences.

Ben Fletcher

Refs:

Stewart M, Wuite S, Ramsden V, Burge F, Beaulieu MD, Fortin M, Godwin M, Harris S, Reid G, Haggerty J, Belle Brown J, Thomas R, Wong S (2014).  Transdisciplinary understandings and training on research. Canadian Family Physician 60: 581-2

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