• Associate Professor of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, University of Oxford
• Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellow
• Honorary Consultant Plastic Surgeon, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Career to date
I qualified from Cambridge as an undergraduate, and from Oxford clinical school, then moved to London for my BST. I then returned to the Oxford Plastic Surgery Department in 2003. In 2004, I began a three-year DM research degree investigating the molecular genetics of congenital limb malformation, under the guidance of Professor Andrew Wilkie. I was then appointed Clinical Lecturer in 2007, which enabled me to combine research with SpR training. I established an international collaboration studying the genetics of Dupuytren’s disease. I was then appointed to a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship in 2012, and as Honorary Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Oxford University in 2013. In 2014, I was awarded an Associate Professorship at the university.
Why did you decide to get involved in research?
I have been involved in genetics research since medical school in Cambridge. The real driving force behind all of my research is a curiosity to understand why – why are children born with congenital malformations; why are some people predisposed to Dupuytren’s Disease, or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; are there modifiable risk factors that could reduce the incidence of common hand surgery conditions? If these fundamental questions can be answered, I think we have then taken the first step along the road towards improving their treatment.
What is your area of research interest?
The molecular genetics and epidemiology of common hand conditions, especially Dupuytren’s Disease and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. In both of these areas, we use big datasets to answer fundamental questions in an unbiased way. I am also investigating how the use of technology can improve outcomes for hand surgery patients.
How have you managed to combine clinical work with research?
This is always challenging. I have been lucky to have excellent support from senior members of my department who value research. In the end, as a clinical academic, around 70% of time is dedicated to clinical work, and around 70% to research!
What have been the sources of your research funding?
I have been supported by the Wellcome Trust, The Academy of Medical Sciences, Oxford University Medical Research Fund, and The British Society for Surgery of the Hand.
What are the benefits and challenges of being a clinical academic?
Benefits include a certain amount of autonomy, the ability to ask and answer important questions, and meeting people from outside surgery who can challenge and stimulate one’s mind. Challenges include convincing surgeons you can operate, convincing scientists you can do science, and finding the correct work-life balance.
What advice would you give to a trainee thinking about an academic career in plastic surgery?
Think long and hard about whether you want to do this for the rest of your career. Identify supportive mentors with a proven track record. Only research a subject which you find fascinating.