Manal Patel completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2013 in the Macleod Diabetes & Endocrinology Centre at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital. She is currently studying Medicine at the University of Cambridge.
What was your project about?
My research focus was upon diabetic foot disease, a complication that can often arise in long term sufferers of diabetes due to impaired sensory innervation, blood flow and a tendency for bacteria to grow in a high glucose environment. During my time at the centre I was able to observe how diabetic foot disease is managed from referral into tertiary care to discharge to the community. I subsequently undertook three projects, one aimed at assessing current methods of educating patients so that they can better self-manage their condition. In another project, I carried out statistical analysis of mortality after having undergone a diabetes-related lower extremity amputation. Thirdly, I researched into the frequency of patients who had developed heel ulcers whilst being an inpatient both before and after various precautionary measures had been put in place in order to assess their efficacy.
What was the highlight/best bit of your placement?
Much of my work involved interviewing patients both face to face and via telephone in order to receive feedback on the care they were receiving. It was extremely rewarding to listen to the views of patients regarding what they felt needed to be changed. They were always very happy to be interviewed especially as their thoughts could really make a difference in this case. Another highly fulfilling aspect of the placement involved presenting my findings at the South West Diabetic Foot Network Conference in front of the region’s most highly esteemed diabetes healthcare professionals. Moreover, it was extremely exciting that the poster I produced as a result of patient’s advice was used as an educational tool during the 2014 World Diabetes Day.
What was your least favourite part of the placement?
The hardest part of the placement was probably collating all the qualitative data I had collected from many patients into a concise report with specific suggestions for changes to patient education. Many problems that patients faced involved being bombarded with too much information too quickly which gave rise to the idea that ‘patient education’ should be an ongoing theme throughout treatment.
What path did you take after finishing your NRP and how has that led you to where you are today?
Taking part in a clinical research placement made me realise that I would like to attend a medical school which would give me an opportunity to pursue my own research interests. As such, I applied to the University of Cambridge whereby after a grounding in the basic medical sciences, I am due to study for an intercalated degree in a subject of my choice and undertake a related research project during that year.
Undertaking a Nuffield Research Placement helped me to gain an understanding of clinical research methodology which is essential to the advancement of medicine and evidence-based practice. On a personal note, I received invaluable advice, from doctors in their final stages of training, about further opportunities for research in medicine, from undertaking an intercalated degree at medical school, to becoming an academic clinical fellow so that I am able to practice medicine alongside becoming a researcher.
If you could give one piece of advice to Nuffield students about to start a placement what would it be?
Based on my own experience, I would recommend that you should try to take every opportunity that is given to you during your placement. As such, I would encourage you to ask lots of questions to your supervisors who are there to encourage you and to help you make the most out of your placement. Having unique experiences that are offered to you during the placement, helps to distinguish you from others who are also doing a placement, and gives you a rich source material to reference in a personal statement or a university interview. Beyond the realms of university applications, it can really help to broaden your horizons as to what research is about and what further opportunities may be open to you in the future.
What would your advice be to young people thinking about a career in STEM?
I would highly recommend pursuing a career in STEM as there is a diverse range of opportunities out there to suit a lot of different skill sets and interests. In my own brief experience, I believe that such a career is both mentally stimulating and highly rewarding and you shouldn’t be put off by traditional perceptions of what such a career might involve.