• 7 October 2021
  • 4 min read

Bringing fresh perspectives to healthcare improvement research

Our fellowships are drawing together individuals from diverse academic disciplines to generate the high-quality research and evidence needed to help improve healthcare. Co-authored with our Fellowships Senior Advisor, Tara Lamont.

Why do people leaving critical care find themselves back in hospital again? How can young people help shape sexual health clinics? Can we design operating theatres to be greener? What helps to strengthen relationships between patients and staff at the end of their lives? These are some of the important and wide-ranging problems addressed by THIS Institute fellows.

Investing in our fellows is a key way of growing capacity and capability in healthcare improvement research – one of our key ambitions at THIS Institute, and one to which we devote around a third of our budget. That investment currently supports 36 fellows working on innovative research projects at universities and other research-intensive environments across the UK, and will be supporting further exceptional individuals over the coming years.

Our fellowships offer people an opportunity to join a supported community of improvement researchers and develop their research leadership skills, while working on their chosen project. Leadership development is a key component of the post-doctoral fellowship, so those fellows participate in a facilitated learning set, meeting regularly throughout their fellowship.

a fertile ecosystem for ideas and research

With fellows from academic fields as varied as architecture, philosophy, computing sciences, design, engineering and a range of clinical and service backgrounds, our fellowship scheme provides a fertile ecosystem for ideas and research. This mix of academic disciplines is one of the things that makes our fellowship scheme so special.

For example, one of our fellows is researching the interaction between disability and design, particularly in relation to what choices are made available to people needing a prosthetic hand. An anthropologist is working with clinicians to understand how people navigate new cancer referral pathways and what is needed to make services safer. And legal and ethical expertise is framing new thinking about differential diagnosis and how clinicians communicate with patients about uncertainty.

Our fellows come from diverse backgrounds, but they are united in their aim to find better ways of improving healthcare through their research.

Building THIS community

Our programme is developing and expanding. Over the next year, we will be offering exciting new opportunities for research fellowships in a range of areas.

Fellowships may be held at any UK university, and are available at different levels tailored to researchers’ specific career stage: PhD or post-doctoral.

our themed fellowships enable responsiveness to emerging priorities

We recently introduced themed fellowships where we ask that projects address a particular topic. Designed to be agile, our themed fellowships enable responsiveness to emerging priorities and system needs while continuing to invest in individuals.

Fellows can make great connections within their learning sets as well as more widely across the fellowship community. They also receive mentoring and attend THIS Space, our annual conference.

All this means that since we began our fellowships in 2018, we’ve been building a rich interdisciplinary community, which is already generating some fascinating results and demonstrating impact.


Prof Richard Hooper becomes our first fellow to complete a fellowship

Professor Richard Hooper is a medical statistician whose fellowship has focused on innovative clinical trial design and how it can be applied in healthcare improvement research. A natural communicator, Richard has innovated in promoting new thinking about stepped wedge trials.

Richard completed his fellowship this year, the first of our fellows to do so. We asked him what he felt about being a THIS fellow.

"It’s the true interdisciplinarity of the THIS fellowships that I’ve been really impressed by. It can be such a buzz phrase, but I think that THIS community really achieves it. The events I've attended as part of my fellowship, the contact I've had with other fellows, and the recommendations they’ve given me to look into other areas... It's been a hugely beneficial process to be able to talk and learn from other disciplines, and it’s prompted me to think about new directions I can take my work in."

a permanent part of the THIS Institute community

Joining THIS in 2021, Tara has seen the positive conclusion to Richard’s fellowship saying, “Although Richard’s fellowship is at an end, we were delighted to hear that he sees himself as a permanent part of the THIS Institute community. He aims to continue his involvement in the fellowships through his work as a mentor, in his words, ‘passing and paying it forward’.

We hope that all researchers we support as part of our fellowship scheme will, like Richard, go on to become the mentors and leaders of a new generation of healthcare improvement researchers.”

The legacy from our fellowships

It is a privilege to invest in the wonderful people who will be leaders of healthcare improvement studies for the future. It’s still early days, but we’re already seeing ripple effects from the scheme. We need these talents and new ways of working across disciplines, professions and bodies of knowledge to address the complex challenges facing healthcare now.

Already our fellows have produced over 50 publications, formed 35 collaborations and partnerships, and are getting involved in opportunities to share their work and further the discipline of healthcare improvement research.

We’ll watch with interest in the long term, following our fellows’ careers and seeing where this work takes them. Stay tuned for our next blog highlighting the work of our fellows.

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