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Graduate, Steven Langton shares his experience having completed both the MSc in Evidence-Based Health Care, and more recently, the DPhil programme in Evidence-Based Health Care, both at the University of Oxford.

Profile picture of Dphil student, Steven Langton

I discovered evidence-based healthcare relatively late in my career.  After 17 years as a consultant in maxillofacial surgery with an interest in oral cancer, I matriculated for the Oxford MSc in Evidence-Based Healthcare (EBHC) in 2012. Despite my extensive clinical training in dentistry, medicine, and surgery, I was aware that my ability to properly comprehend and appraise scientific evidence and incorporate it into my clinical practice was limited. I was looking for a way to develop these skills, and the MSc in EBHC seemed an ideal route to do so, studying part-time whilst maintaining a busy surgical practice.

The MSc, which I completed in 2014, did not disappoint. It gave me considerable insight into the process of evidence-based practice (‘ask a question, find research, appraise, apply and evaluate outcomes’) and many new skills, particularly in relation to previously unfamiliar research methods. However, perhaps most importantly, it changed my ‘mindset’. I found myself asking many clinical questions and seeking evidence-based answers in a way I had not done previously.

Progressing to the DPhil

Progression to the DPhil was a logical step for me. By now ‘hooked’ on the evidence-based approach, I wanted to further develop my research skills and to apply them to problems in my areas of clinical practice. One subject that particularly interested me was the government’s performance targets that ‘drive’ many aspects of cancer care (including my own practice) in the UK. Evidence that these targets improved clinical outcomes was limited.  With this in mind, in October 2015 I started my DPhil entitled ‘An evidence-based approach to the urgent referral of suspected oral cancer in England’ which I completed in December 2020.

The DPhil in EBHC experience

The DPhil in EBHC provides a wealth of different experiences. It is hard work, requires considerable organisation, is often frustrating, time-consuming, and challenging – yet, overall, I found it enjoyable, very worthwhile, and on completion, immensely satisfying. Apart from the opportunity to become an expert in a particular aspect of healthcare, skills in many other areas are developed and enhanced including time management, teamwork, writing, presenting, publishing, and interpersonal skills. Although I studied part-time, I very much enjoyed regular visits to Oxford and the opportunity to engage with the University and the city. I could not have asked for better supervisors (Clare Bankhead and Annette Plüddemann) who provided excellent support and guidance. I was a member of Kellogg College for my DPhil, which provides very good facilities for part-time and ‘mature’ students.

My ‘top tips’ for DPhil students (and prospective ones)

  1. Make sure you select a topic that you genuinely enjoy and find very interesting – you are going to be reading about it and researching it a lot!
  2. From an early stage, think through how your thesis will come together as ‘as a whole ‘, presenting a coherent argument, rather than being a collection of loosely related studies.
  3. Make sure – and discuss with your supervisors - the studies you propose are practical and achievable in a reasonable time. In clinical studies needing ethical approval, be prepared for possible time-consuming bureaucracy.
  4. Publish as much as possible as you progress. Apart from providing focus and evidence that your work is ‘publishable’, submitted studies will be read by a journal editor and usually two referees; their comments provide feedback on aspects that may not have been previously considered.

Would I do it again?

Yes, absolutely. Both the MSc and DPhil in EBHC at Oxford provide outstanding, world-class training and I would strongly encourage anyone with appropriate interest and experience to consider these courses.

 Any regrets?

Yes – I should have done it 20 years earlier!

Author

Steven Langton, FRCS, MSc, DPhil (Oxon)