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BMJ Open. 2017 Jun 12;7(6):e015722. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-015722.

What impact has the NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) scheme had on clinical academic careers in England over the last 10 years? A retrospective study.

Author information

NIHR Trainees Coordinating Centre, Leeds Innovation Centre, Leeds, UK.
NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre and Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
Department of Women's and Children's Health, The University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.



The Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) was introduced to support the early career clinical and research training of potential future clinical academics in England. The driver for the model was concern about falling numbers of clinical academic trainees. This study examines the impact of the ACF model, over its first 10 years, in developing clinical academic careers by tracking the progression of ACF trainees.


Retrospective analysis of National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) ACF career progression. This was performed using mixed methods including routine data collections of career destination, analysis of application rates to doctoral level fellowships and supplemented by survey information that captured the perceived benefits and challenges from previous ACFs and their current career activities.


1239 NIHR ACFs who completed or left their posts between 2006 and March 2015.


ACFs are perceived by the candidate population as attractive posts, with high numbers of applications leading to high fill rates. Balancing clinical and academic commitments is one of the reported challenges when completing an ACF. We have found that undertaking an ACF was shown to increase the likelihood of securing an externally funded doctoral training award and the vast majority of ACFs move into academic roles, with many completing PhDs. Previous ACFs continue to show positive career progression, predominantly in translational and clinical research. The knowledge acquired during the ACF continues to be useful in subsequent roles and trainees would recommend the scheme to others.


The NIHR ACF scheme is successful as part of an integrated training pathway in developing careers in academic medicine and dentistry.


health sevices administration & management; medical education & training; qualitative research

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: SC, JF, HH-J, LR, CM and LAC work for the NIHR Trainees Coordinating Centre as employees of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which receives funding from the Department of Health. DJ declares that he acts as NIHR Dean for Faculty Trainees and receives financial payment from the Department of Health for this role. JN declares no competing interests.

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