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Issue 145 Autumn 2022

Endocrinologist > Autumn 2022 > Features


A TRAINEE’S JOURNEY IN CLINICAL RESEARCH

CHIOMA IZZI-ENGBEAYA | Features



I have had an interesting journey: from 17-year-old Nigerian immigrant to clinical academic in endocrinology. My intercalated BSc in endocrinology confirmed that this was the right field for me. I began my specialist training in diabetes and endocrinology in 2008. After having my second child in 2010, I returned to work as a less than full-time trainee.

‘When people ask me what I do, the most accurate description is “a little bit of all the things I enjoy”.’

Flexible training enabled me to have the best of both worlds, but it also presented some challenges. These included ensuring continuity of care for patients on my non-work days, and exposure to learning opportunities that were scheduled on my non-work days.

However, with the support of excellent clinical and educational supervisors, an amazing training programme director (Professor Karim Meeran), a lot of organisation, meticulous record-keeping and clear communication with other trainees and consultants, I was able to experience the breadth of general and specialty medicine in my district general hospital placements and continue to enjoy family life.

GAINING RESEARCH EXPERIENCE

In the latter half of my training, my rotations included a teaching hospital. It became apparent that it would be beneficial to gain some research experience, especially as I was working in a very research-active centre. I had my first taste of translational clinical research in Professor Waljit Dhillo’s lab, initially as a volunteer and subsequently as an National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Academic Clinical Fellow in endocrinology and diabetes.

This was a major turning point, as I had ring-fenced blocks of time dedicated to research. It was exciting to learn a new set of skills, which I was eager to develop further. Under the guidance of Professor Dhillo (and with support from his team), I was subsequently awarded a one-year Imperial Health Charity Fellowship. This gave me additional time to write papers, generate pilot data and prepare applications for PhD funding.

My initial PhD funding applications were unsuccessful, but support from close colleagues (especially those who had experienced similar rejections) and my family, as well as my strong desire to undertake a PhD, kept me going.

I was awarded an MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship in 2014, and I had my third child in 2015. The Section of Endocrinology and Investigative Medicine at Imperial College, where I undertook my PhD, is a very supportive environment, where it is commonplace for people to take maternity leave or paternity leave at any stage in their research careers and continue to make excellent progress afterwards.

During my PhD, I developed an interest in the roles that hormones play in the interactions between reproductive and metabolic conditions. I enjoyed my time in the lab and I wanted to pursue an academic career. Supported by NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) funding, I was able to continue my research activities when I rejoined my training rotation as a flexible trainee. Subsequently, I obtained my Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) in 2019, and I was awarded an Imperial–NIHR BRC Post-doctoral Post-CCT Research Fellowship, which provided much- needed bridging funding.

THE IMPACT OF COVID

'My initial PhD funding applications were unsuccessful, but support from close colleagues and my family, as well as my strong desire to undertake a PhD, kept me going.'

Everyone has been affected by the COVID pandemic. In the midst of the heart-breaking events that occurred, I was privileged to work with healthcare providers from all disciplines, to care for patients in familiar and unfamiliar settings. The dissemination of knowledge about this new condition, and the rapid development, testing and deployment of vaccines and medicines to combat COVID, are a testament to what can be achieved when the skills and knowledge acquired in clinical practice, basic science and clinical research are combined with collaborations between academia, industry, healthcare providers and governments. More than ever, we need people with both clinical and research expertise to combat common and rare health conditions worldwide.

A lot of my research activities were halted during the early stages of the COVID pandemic, but I wanted to continue to be academically productive. I applied my skills and examined our Trust’s data and published papers on diabetes-related outcomes following COVID infection. In order to accomplish this, I was open-minded when ideas were proposed and collaborated with other clinicians, a statistician and medical students. In time, I was able to continue the translational studies that had been suspended, and my funders generously extended my funding. I have started several new projects and I am applying for further funding.

A DIVERSE CAREER

When people ask me what I do, the most accurate description is ‘a little bit of all the things I enjoy’. I help care for patients in bariatric medicine, lipid and endocrinology clinics. I am developing collaborations to undertake research focused on obesity-related co-morbidities and improving outcomes of people with obesity. I teach, supervise and examine undergraduate and postgraduate students. Additionally, one of my roles at Imperial College School of Medicine is to foster an inclusive environment, where students can be educated in an academically rigorous and supportive setting.

I feel very fortunate. Not only do I enjoy what I do, I have had the opportunity to learn a wide variety of research techniques and conduct basic science and clinical studies, care for patients, contribute to the training and development of clinicians and academics, and be a very hands-on mum to my children.

I have travelled around the world, presented my work and interacted with leading experts in endocrinology. I have benefited from amazing sponsorship and mentorship, personally and professionally, within the NHS and Imperial College London. I am grateful to the Society for Endocrinology for investing in my development by giving me a Leadership and Development Award, which has provided me with networking and leadership opportunities. My journey would have been more difficult without my supportive husband and my colleagues, who have become friends. They have encouraged me when there have been setbacks and challenged me to aim higher.

As novel agents expand the treatment options for endocrine and metabolic disorders, and so many important research questions remain unanswered, I am excited about the future and the next phase of my journey.

Chioma Izzi-Engbeaya
Consultant Endocrinologist, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust




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Autumn 2022

Autumn 2022