Celebrating 6 years of Joint Doctoral Training Fellowships: Launching careers in ageing-related research

We and the British Geriatrics Society share a common goal—improving the quality of life for older people. To do so, we both believe it’s important to have good research and evidence underpinning interventions that aim to help older people have better health outcomes and care.

That’s why, in 2019, we joined forces with the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) to create a joint Doctoral Training Fellowship scheme. 

The scheme offers frontline healthcare professionals—including clinicians, nurses, pharmacists, and allied healthcare professionals—funding for a PhD to delve into a research topic relevant to older people’s healthcare.

By funding clinical fellows, we’re enabling them to improve practice

Sarah Mistry, CEO of the BGS
Funding an under-served area

While there are many doctoral fellowships out there, ours is unique because it’s open to any frontline healthcare professional and specifically for ageing-related research. 

As Sarah Mistry, CEO of the BGS explains, “There’s very little funding available to people who are trying to combine research with clinical work, particularly in the field of older people’s care.” It’s incredibly important that the people who are working at the frontline of older people’s care are given the right opportunity and support to develop their skills in research. “By funding clinical fellows, we’re enabling them to improve practice,” she adds. 

Adeela Usman, our first joint fellow in 2019, shares how the scheme supports a diverse range of healthcare professionals. “This scheme is open to all healthcare professionals. I have a pharmacy and public health-related background and this fellowship has been an amazing opportunity to develop my capacity in ageing-related research.” Since being funded, Adeela has also been involved in the assessment panel for future rounds of the scheme. She adds, “I’ve seen applications from across the healthcare spectrum, including orthoptics and dieticians.”

Adeela, who is developing a quality-of-life framework for use in older people’s care homes, has seen first-hand how difficult it can be to find the right support for ageing-related research. “In broader fellowship schemes, my ageing-related project might not have been seen as so important. For me, having this dedicated fellowship validates the importance of ageing research and has allowed me to develop my skills to continue ageing-related research post-PhD,” she says.

Building much-needed capacity within age-related clinical research

Our joint fellowship is one of the only schemes dedicated to helping build up the number of research-active healthcare professionals interested in healthier older age.

So far, six fellows have been funded through the Joint BGS / DMT Doctoral Training Fellowship. Clockwise from top-left: Adeela Usman (funded 2019); Dr Sarah Hopkins (2020); Dr Hannah Moorey (2021); Dr Marc Österdahl (2022), Dr Shiv Bhakta (2022); Dr Liam Barrett (2023).

Dr Hannah Moorey, our 2021 fellow, is investigating delirium in older people admitted to hospital. She says, “The fellowship has been invaluable in giving me time and funding to pursue and continue a clinical academic career.”

Dr Liam Barrett, our newest joint fellow, is investigating the effects of ageing and blood thinners on clotting in older people with traumatic injuries. He says, “The fellowship is an exciting opportunity to enhance my research skills to be a future research leader and is an important step in my career as an Emergency Medicine Clinical Academic. I am very grateful for the support, which allows me to pursue my passion and contribute important research.”

Dr Shiv Bhakta, one of our 2022 fellows, is investigating how calcium build-up impacts on stroke risk in older adults. Shiv echoes this sentiment, “Being awarded this funding has been pivotal in allowing me to proceed with my clinical research. I have been able to work closely with multiple different departments and groups within the hospital, and I hope that this research will lead to national and international collaborations and make tangible improvements in the treatment and health outcomes for age-related vascular diseases.”

Dr Marc Österdahl, who also received the fellowship in 2022, is investigating whether hormone replacement therapy mediates the risk of frailty in later life. Marc highlights how the fellowship has influenced his career choices. “My fellowship has given me a unique opportunity during my career to step into research full-time. Building on my previous clinical experience, where I became very engaged by questions around ageing, I can now dedicate time and energy to generating answers. Ultimately, it is creating a career path where I will work both as a clinician treating older adults, and an academic researcher answering questions to improve patient care.”

“This scheme creates an opportunity to build capacity and enables people to stay involved in ageing-related research. If not for this fellowship, I don’t know whether I could have stayed in ageing research,” Adeela shares.

A fellowship offering more than just funding

The funding wasn’t just about supporting my project; it was about investing in me as a person

Adeela Usman, 2019 Joint Fellow, University of Nottingham

Sarah Mistry comments on the extra benefits fellows get as part of the scheme, “Thanks to the joint funding, we offer additional benefits to fellows. These include opportunities to present at scientific meetings, and access to large ageing-related networks to connect with others and promote their work.”

Adeela adds, “The fellowship granted me the opportunity to join the BGS Research and Development Committee and the BGS Pharmacy group, allowing me to share my views and learn from senior academics and pharmacists.”

The scheme provides more than just financial support. Dr Sarah Hopkins, our 2020 fellow, who is using experience-based co-design to improve the impact of advance care planning on the care of frail older people shared, “I find it hard to overstate the impact for me of receiving this joint fellowship. I felt so welcomed by both the Dunhill Medical Trust, who invited me to be part of their fellowship awards process, and by the British Geriatrics Society, where I have been invited to be a member of the End of Life Care Special Interest Group.” 

Dr Hopkins continues, “It has given me the thinking space to really explore and learn from a wide range of disciplines, and the opportunity to gain new research skills and develop collaborations, as well as lead my own research project. Ultimately, I hope it will enable me to make a meaningful contribution to improving the care of older people.”

For Adeela, the Dunhill Medical Trust and British Geriatrics Society’s emphasis on inclusivity and individual support resonated deeply, saying “We often talk about inclusivity and diversity, but it’s how we apply it that really matters. I feel that this fellowship genuinely supports individuals with disabilities and ethnic minorities like myself, and went above and beyond to make me feel like I belong.”

“The funding wasn’t just about supporting my project; it was about investing in me as a person.” Adeela explains. “The Dunhill Medical Trust and British Geriatrics Society genuinely cared about my development and demonstrated kindness and compassion throughout the process. If I were to go back in time, I would still apply for this fellowship, not just for the opportunity to get a PhD, but also for the incredible people and supportive environment.”

The future of the programme

The sixth round of the scheme closed to applications back in March, and we’re looking forward to announcing the successful fellow in due course.

While the scheme might look slightly different in future years, we’ve seen the importance of supporting more healthcare professionals to explore a career in ageing research. 

As Sarah Mistry explains, “This fellowship has made us all so aware that there is a critical gap in the funding landscape. We need to continue supporting and retaining researchers after their PhDs, and building capacity in ageing-related clinical research.” 

Looking ahead, we’ll be working with the British Geriatrics Society to explore ways of addressing this gap using our joint scheme, as well as what additional support we can provide for our future fellows.