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During my elective placement as part of my final year of medical school, I spent a month at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital based at it’s Clinical Research Facility - a hub for leading research studies in the development of novel medicines in paediatrics. I joined the research team for their weekly meetings discussing updates on the studies being run at the research facility and was able to observe how the study visits were performed by the research nurses, learning about the various elements involved in the recruitment and consenting of participants to a research study. It was so valuable to see research being performed in practice, to appreciate the detailed processes involved in a study from its protocol design through to its conclusion. It helped aid my understanding of research in the literature and put into perspective the depth of investment in time and resources that’s needed to ensure the safety and efficacy of new advancements in medicines, especially when involving children.
I regularly shadowed the clinical research fellows whose research focused in particular on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a rare neuromuscular disease for which Alder Hey is a specialist centre and for which a large proportion of the trials on the research facility are focused towards. I was able to attend the specialist Duchenne outpatient clinics run by the fellows and saw the impact that a long-term degenerative condition can have on growing children both physically and psychologically, which cannot be captured in a textbook alone. I saw firsthand the impact that research had had in transforming the lives and futures of young boys who had been involved in research studies significantly suppressing the progression of their disease and allowing them to maintain their functional abilities longer than predicted.
Alongside overseeing the clinical research facility, the doctors who are specialists or specialist trainees in clinical pharmacology also have a clinical role within the hospital. I was therefore also able to gain some general paediatric experience by joining the medical take, post-take ward rounds, and rapid access referral clinics which gave me insight into the presentation and management of a variety of acute and complex cases.
Overall my placement at Alder Hey’s CRF offered something very different from a UK-based elective, allowing me to explore the practical side of research, which you are rarely exposed to as a medical student beyond reading through the methodology in a research paper. Such opportunities to see research studies being developed, delivered and then observe the tangible outcomes of the trials for the children involved, are rarely accessible during medical school so it was fascinating to gain this insight into research and what the specialty of clinical pharmacology can involve. The placement also offered many opportunities to actively participate in various paediatric research projects, which helps not only to enhance knowledge and gain new experiences in the short term, but also to support career aspirations for the future.
Alder Hey Children's Charity