Research opportunities for GP doctors-in-training:
Administered by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the position of an academic registrar is a twelve-month training post. It counts towards training for the RACGP fellowship and is funded by the Australian Government under the Australian General Practice Training program (AGPT).
Since the first cohort of registrars in 2017, it has been a very successful initiative to promote and enhance primary care research, including a number of publications to relevant journals, e.g. Family Practice, BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, Australian Journal of General Practice.
The position involves part-time research and teaching at an affiliated Australian university, and part-time clinical training in a General Practice (GP) with a designated regional training organisation (RTO)1.
In 2020, there were twenty GP registrars offered an academic post nationwide. The selection is a competitive process and the application requires thoughtful consideration of academic interests, establishing contacts with experienced researchers and universities, and preparation of a detailed research and teaching proposal.
1. Know thyself: interest in research and teaching
It is important to reflect on your previous research and teaching experience. While some GP registrars may develop an interest from student and peer teaching during their medical studies, others may develop such interests from interactions with medical educators and clinical researchers throughout our medical training.
In retrospect, my research experience is not expansive. At university, I attended lectures on developing research questions. For example, as a group assignment, we drafted a proposal about cortisol implication.
I also participated in a research project where we used an illuminated mannequin for dermatome demonstration in clinical education, leading to a conference presentation.
As an intern, I was involved briefly in data collection for research projects with specialist clinicians, and later published two case reports of psychotropic overuse and complicated surgical procedure in intensive care medicine, as well as a review article on interesting anecdotes on the history of ophthalmology.
My interest in teaching was formed early when I used to tutor my brother in his studies and recently taught my parents to drive, and later on from bedside and tutorial teaching to junior students and colleagues.
After my first year of training as a hospital intern in Adelaide, I took mentoring medical students seriously, and as a result, I was awarded the Best Intern Teaching Award.
Now, working as a GP registrar, I have become increasingly appreciative of the value of teaching in patient education.
2. Going about the academic post application
The application details are on the RACGP website1. The RACGP website contains the academic post application guide, a video on how to prepare a quality application, and news and testimonies from former academic registrars1.
When I prepared for my application, I found the video on the website particularly helpful; it explains the major steps for the application, i.e. the process of early discussion with your assigned RTO medical educator, linking with a department of general practice (DGP) for research and teaching opportunities and managing our application while many registrars are being oriented to practise as a community GP.
The RTO is also another resource. My RTO hosted an information webinar in late February in our GP Term 1 (GPT1) training. The research director and one previous academic registrar answered questions about what to expect in this post and outlined how the RTO would support us in the process.
3. The research and teaching bit: proposing the “proposal”
Shortly after the academic webinar, I made contact with Dr Chris Barton at the DGP, Monash University. He welcomed me to the Department and introduced me to Professor Danielle Mazza, the head of the Department and the director of SPHERE, a then soon-to-be-launched centre of research excellence funded by the National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) focusing on women’s sexual and reproductive health.
They were very helpful in assisting me to identify the necessary process in formulating a suitable research question, liaising with the Department’s teaching staff and my RTO medical educators.
Overall the application of an academic post is not a simple process, and only after many refinements and feedback did I decide to propose a qualitative study with SPHERE. My research project is titled “Postpartum contraception: what do women think?”; a qualitative study aiming to explore how women experience postpartum contraceptive care in Australia.
The RACGP uses SmartyGrants software to accept and manage academic post applications. There are four parts to the application:
- Part A: Applicant details and confirmation of eligibility
- Part B: Research and teaching proposal
- Part C: Professional development and registrar research funds
- Part D: Declarations
Part A: Applicant details and confirmation of eligibility
As stated in the application handbook from the RACGP website, if a registrar successfully completes GPT1 then they are eligible to apply for the academic post, and if GPT1 is not completed at the time of application, a letter of satisfactory progress is required from their medical educator.
The academic post can also be applied for in later stages, provided at least 12 months remaining in training.
Part B: Research and teaching proposal
A curriculum vitae will also be required for submission, and it should highlight previous teaching and research experience.
Specific questions included in this part of the application are about proposed training time, learning objectives and the research proposal plan.
These questions are best answered after consulting the DGP of the chosen university. The teaching aspect requires knowledge of the arrangement of lectures, tutorials and clinical skill sessions according to the timetable of the university.
Depending on the department, opportunities of student assessment, committee meetings and simulation sessions may be offered and can be included in the proposal. There may be an established schedule to assist you with the proposal.
In my case, the academic program at Monash University is well structured and scheduled for two to three days a week.
Monday is the teaching day, which involves delivering teaching to year 4 medical students rotating through General Practice.
Wednesday is the research and department day, which consists of research meetings, academic seminars, journal club and some time working on the research project. An additional Thursday every fortnight is also set aside to focus on activities for the research project.
The next step involves the details of the research proposal. It is essential to plan this part thoroughly.
A clear proposal will include the title of the research project, background and knowledge gap based on the existing literature, aims, impact and proposed methodology.
This part also includes the tentative dates for project completion, plans for ethics approval, and a brief discussion about the potential stakeholders for the research.
Part C: Professional development and registrar research funds
In 2020, a funding of $8000 is offered to the academic registrar to cover research expenses and professional development.
When I outlined my budget, I listed anticipated expenses, including courses such as Qualitative Research in Health Professionals Education by Monash University and Women’s Reproductive and Sexual Health course by Family Planning Victoria, and the costs of recruiting participants, e.g. incentives and transcription costs.
Part D: Declarations
In response to declaration questions on SmartyGrant, three statements are to be made and signed by the applying registrar, the university supervisor/s and the medical educator from the RTO.
4. Exams, life and what if I get rejected?
The application process is different to our clinical practice and requires much effort to complete
Although I had previously submitted to journals, I had limited experience in formulating research questions and considering the logistics and funding for a research project.
The application itself is truly a learning process for the prospective GP registrars to gather information and prepare proposals.
I applied for this academic post soon after moving to Warrnambool, which is a rural town in Victoria. Throughout my first year I was to a certain degree affected by some personal and family issues.
I expected that if I was offered the position, I would be grateful, but if I got rejected, I would not get discouraged and may still be able to apply for the post again in subsequent training terms.
I was supported by my clinic, RTO and the University. So I gained experience to prepare a quality research and teaching proposal which had been a highlight in my first year GP training. Now working in this role from February this year, I feel confident that my skills in primary care research and teaching will expand.
I hope my experience in applying for the academic post would motivate prospective registrars that the application is feasible and can be a rewarding part of the GP training. GP supervisors are encouraged to support their registrars in their decisions to apply for such a valuable opportunity.
The first step is reflecting on your academic teaching and research experience, and subsequently going through the application guide, getting in touch with a university DGP and preparing research and teaching proposals that are reasonable, of interest and impactful. I regard the academic post as an effective way of training to promote primary health care and research.
The ongoing collaboration of GP training colleges and universities will no doubt facilitate this process.
This article has been provided by Dr Ching Kay Li. After undertaking an academic placement, she shares her experiences and knowledge about applying for an academic post as a valuable teaching and research opportunity.
1. RACGP. AGPT Academic Post Program. Available from: https://www.racgp.org.au/education/registrars/fellowship-pathways/australian-general-practice-training-program-agpt/academic-posts (Accessed July, 2021)