Why we're launching a new round of PhD funding for health professionals

When research and healthcare come together, everyone benefits. That’s why we're announcing a new call for PhD programmes to support health professionals in their research careers. 

Two physical therapists laughing with a patient

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Balancing clinical work and research has unique challenges

Health professionals who drive research also deliver care to patients in hospitals and the community. Their position on the research pathway is unique – between the “push” of the discovery pipeline and the “pull” of patients’ needs. They play a crucial role in increasing our understanding of disease, promoting innovation in healthcare, and improving patient outcomes at the point of need.

But juggling two careers at the same time isn’t easy. Achieving a high level of expertise both as a health professional and as a researcher is challenging, and taking time out of clinical work to focus on research training risks delaying clinical training – and career progression – compared with colleagues.

Support at the transition points between clinical training and research is also critical, and this needs to be tailored to the individual. It’s clear that health professionals benefit from bespoke support to bridge the gap between healthcare and research. That’s where our new programmes come in.

Alignment with our new strategy

Wellcome has long recognised the need to support health professionals, and this remains central to delivering our mission of solving the urgent health challenges facing everyone. Support for clinical PhDs has been explicitly identified as a point where Wellcome can really make a difference, and this new competition will align our funding for early career health professionals with Wellcome's new strategy

Wellcome’s PhD Programmes for Health Professionals will focus on creating knowledge and building research capability within a positive research ecosystem. Through these programmes we hope to catalyse exemplar programmes of clinical research training that nurture the career development of future healthcare leaders.

What we're looking for

We’re seeking PhD programmes that will deliver outstanding research training opportunities for health professionals. Programmes can be themed by discipline – including science, technology, engineering, clinical research and experimental medicine, innovation, and humanities and social science – as long as the research is related to health. Programmes can also be built around geography (e.g. single geographic location, or group of organisations within a region) or around a clinical specialty (e.g. primary care), or a mix of the above.

We know that lack of diversity in clinical academia is a problem. To be considered for funding in this competition, all programmes will be required to have a strategy for recruitment that encourages diversity and inclusivity. We’ll ask applicants to describe clear targets for recruitment of diverse fellows and supervisors – and how they’ll meet those targets. They’ll also need to create a monitoring plan for equality, diversity and inclusion, showing how they’ll share their progress and best practice.

We’re also expanding our eligibility requirements: programmes will be able to recruit fellows from across all registered health professions, rather than restricting entry to doctors, dentists and vets.

It’s crucial that research environments are healthy workplaces. Our PhD programmes will offer large awards to single organisations or consortia, to allow them to train cohorts of PhD fellows, rather than funding individual fellowships. This programmatic approach ensures the fellows will be embedded within a community, and will have access to dedicated support teams.

We will also ask programmes to think creatively about how research culture can be improved, and to define and develop their own research culture road map. This might include leadership training, support for career transitions, opportunities for interdisciplinary training, and support for collaborative activities.

So, successful programmes will demonstrate excellence not only in research training, but also in the ability to build a positive, diverse and inclusive research ecosystem. 

We're open to applications until 4 March 2021. Further information can be found on the scheme page