Passionate about the potential of improvement science to improve the NHS and patient care, Dr Julie Reed joined our Improvement Science Fellowship in 2011. It’s a three-year scheme to develop original, applied research dedicated to improving healthcare in the UK. We talk to Julie, one of our four fellows, about how she’s found the scheme and what she wants her research to achieve.
Why did you apply to the fellowship scheme?
The opportunity to apply came at a really suitable point in my career. I had spent three years as part of a leadership team with the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration in Applied Health Research and Care (NIHR CLAHRC) North West London. We build effective relationships between practitioners and academics to drive improvements in healthcare. I became interested in how academic knowledge is translated into improvement in healthcare and the need to have a different way of thinking about how groups involved work together. I saw the fellowship as a unique opportunity to have protected time to focus on doing research around these issues.
What is your research about?
Reframing the relationship between science and improvement. Science is often seen as being very detached from the goal of improvement. I aim to demonstrate that the scientific discipline of experiment, observation, critical reflection and learning is crucial to driving improvements in healthcare at a local level.
The role frontline healthcare staff play in driving improvements is a key focus. I will observe frontline staff and conduct focus groups to explore the challenges they face putting scientific skills into action and find out how they can be better supported. Challenges could be anything from getting multiple stakeholders to agree on a shared aim to not having a suitable IT system to collect data.
This contributes to the Health Foundation’s work because it’s ultimately about improving patient care.
What have you learned from the scheme?
I’m learning how to balance doing rigorous research with developing as a leader. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this role: from how to support people to become engaged in areas that are new to them, to how to approach building relationships between groups that don’t typically work together.
My one-to-one coaching with Fiona Reed, my fellowship mentor, has been a powerful tool for reflection and has helped me clarify what areas I want to work on. I aim to apply these skills in my leadership role at NIHR CLAHRC and with researchers and PhD students I supervise at Imperial College.
How do you work with other fellows?
We have quarterly learning sessions to talk about challenges we are facing in our research or at a more personal level. They make you realise that issues you thought were quite unique for you are actually shared. This provides excellent support and peer-to-peer learning. We are seeing the similarities in our work and all the fellows are committed to working together, whether it’s to produce publications or present at conferences.
What would you say to someone considering applying for the Fellowship?
It’s a brilliant opportunity and gives you the possibility to develop your qualities as a leader while having protected time for research. You need to be passionate about improvement science and want to be a leader in your field. My advice is to make the most of the opportunities that the fellowship offers such as support from the Health Foundation Improvement Science Development Group. They’re really inspiring people.
What do you want to do with your research in the future?
The aim is to create a more dynamic and responsive relationship between academics and practitioners. We need a long term commitment to working together with shared responsibility for delivering improvements in patient care.
I’d like to be a leader within improvement science, developing a collaboration of academics from different disciplines who are dedicated to working alongside frontline healthcare teams at a local level.
The concept of improvement science ultimately transcends healthcare and could transform practice across the public sector.