The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust


Sheryl Wilmott: How my Clinical Leadership Fellowship in Research and Innovation is helping me spread the word about research in the Trust

3 January 2020

Sheryl Wilmott

This August, I put down my scalpel and forceps, waved goodbye to my patients, and started a Clinical Leadership Fellowship in Research and Innovation at Jimmy’s. I have been a Specialty Dentist in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (Maxfacs) at Leeds Dental Institute for the last 4 years. I qualified as a dentist in 2011 and since then I’ve worked in general practice, a domiciliary dental service and an emergency dental service, but Maxfacs has been my favourite. I have really enjoyed working at the intersection between surgery and dentistry, but after 4 years it was time to try something new.  Completing a Masters of Research in Public Health gave me the impetus to apply to work with the Research and Innovation team (R&I).

Today I am six months into the Clinical Leadership Fellowship and I’m finding it both rewarding and challenging in equal measure. The fellowship is a role developed by Health Education England which gives clinical staff a year away from clinical practice to develop their leadership skills.  Fifty per cent of my time is dedicated to self-development.  This includes attending courses and conferences, taking advantage of the coaching opportunities provided by HEE, and lots of reading. I’ve also been involved in the recruitment process for next year’s cohort of fellows, and I’m on the committee for the Doctors’ Digest (an LTHT online publication aimed at junior doctors) and the Leaders’ Digest (a website for all of the Leadership Fellows in Yorkshire).

In R&I I’ve spent a lot of time with the members of the team to learn about the process of sponsoring, setting up and managing clinical trials, which will be really useful if I pursue a career in research. The other 50% of my time is spent developing quality improvement and educational projects. I’m investigating the barriers to using Real World Data for healthcare research, developing research education packages for clinicians and exploring how to change the research culture of an organisation.

To apply for this fellowship I had to complete an application form and I was invited to interview. For the interview, I was asked to prepare a short presentation and answer some questions from a panel of interviewers. When I was offered the role, I had to work out how I was going to get out of my job in Maxfacs for a year! As a SAS grade dentist, I requested a career break/ secondment through the flexible working pathway. I was fortunate that my Clinical Service Unit was very supportive of my request, but I suspect that the success of this request will be dependent on the needs of each individual service.  There was also an aspect of imposter syndrome that almost stopped me applying for the role.  Was I a leader?  Did I know anything about research? Could I handle such a steep learning curve?

Fortunately, I’m really enjoying the process so far.  As a learner, I’ve spent time with almost everyone in R&I to learn how research is conducted in the Trust.  I’ve learned the differences between commercial and non-commercial research. I’ve learned what a CTIMP[1] is, and followed the process of a clinical trial from inception to recruitment of patients. I’ve attended some of the classes at the LTHT Research Academy, learning how to use social media as a research tool, and updating my Good Clinical Practice qualification.  As a leader, I am liaising with a variety of skilled people within the Trust and bringing together their expertise to solve problems like linking patient records for research purposes.  And I’m working on empowering staff members to be aware of, and get involved in, the research that takes place in the trust.

I see this role as a privilege.  It is a rarity to have the opportunity (and the time!) to think about how to implement changes that will improve your place of work. When I return to my job I’ll approach it differently, with greater confidence to speak up and make changes that improve the experience of staff and patients.

For further information about the Future Leaders Programme: