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Denise reflects on the creation of the PGDip in Health Research and its impact over the last ten years.

They say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. This describes perfectly the origins of the Postgraduate Diploma in Health Research over ten years ago. We had no idea then that what we hastily put together would develop and mature into such a highly regarded course. At the time our conviction was that the ‘academic’ doctors we designed the course for needed a strong grounding in evidence-based medicine to serve the needs of their patients as well as their research – that has not changed.

A brief explanation of the history might help explain the presenting ‘necessity’ as the why and how the ‘mother of invention’ needed to be called upon.

The Department of Health established the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in 2006 and it immediately set about enhancing the clinical workforce by trying to reverse the decline in clinical academic numbers. This was mainly directed at doctors in training with a view to creating a pipeline of academic doctors who would tackle research questions that would improve health and wellbeing.

The NIHR scheme built momentum and in 2009 they launched the requirement that centres in the scheme must offer Masters level, accredited, modular, part-time, research courses. The 8-month deadline they gave equated to virtually overnight in the world of organising university courses.

Oxford was a beneficiary of the NIHR scheme, so this provided the urgent necessity. The obvious place to turn was the University Continuing Education Department and the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine in the Department of Primary Care who already ran a range of modular courses.

We quickly sketched out what we thought our academic doctors needed to know and understand and what also might help them in their clinical research. This was mapped onto modules on existing courses. Then all that was required was to write the new course regulations and get it through the University accreditation system! Here all praise goes to the Continuing Education team who managed to expedite the whole process in a way no-one thought would be possible.

So duly by the NIHR deadline we were much relieved to have a brand new shiny Diploma and Certificate in Health Research to offer.

The course was very well received by the academic doctors that it was originally intended for and it has gone from strength to strength over the past 10 years. A wider range of modules is now available and there are options to draw on newer more specialised courses in statistics and systematic reviews which reflect new research directions. The course is also open to non-medical healthcare professionals.

One of the real benefits of our course is that the students join modules on different Masters programmes, each of which have participants from a wide range of backgrounds and countries. I have heard many times that this diversity of experience is invigorating, motivating, and thought provoking.

There is definitely great satisfaction that the course continues to be successful and serves as a strong foundation for health research endeavours. This is testament to the quality of teaching and commitment of the module leaders.

A great way to finish and look forward to the next 10 years is with some reflections from our recent course participants:

‘I really valued the opportunity to take the course. All the modules that I have done have been very useful and are important for clinicians in general to work and research in an evidence-based way.’

‘Very good course and run by some excellent teachers. Really enjoyed meeting other students on the course from different backgrounds (not just academic clinicians). Also liked that I could pick modules according to my interests.’

‘Very good quality teaching and nice experience overall. Really grateful for this opportunity.’

‘(…) overall the quality was very good and I was EXTREMELY HAPPY with how flexible the course organisers were with allowing me to take specific other modules that best suited the kind of work I was doing (…).’

Author: Denise Best is the Associate Director of Oxford University Clinical Academic Graduate School, founded in 2009 to support, promote and advance clinical academic careers.