John Gierula - Advanced Fellowship

My name is John, I am an NIHR Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and University of Leeds Academic Fellow. My professional background is in the NHS in the relatively unknown profession of Healthcare Scientist, the NHS isn’t just doctors and nurses you know! We are a highly diverse workforce with the responsibility of obtaining scientific information from diagnostics tests that assist in the diagnosis of disease. In some Healthcare Science disciplines practitioners will perform therapeutic interventions, and although our workforce comprises only around 5% of the healthcare workforce in the UK, we deliver almost 1 billion diagnostic tests a year, and our work underpins 80% of all diagnoses and clinical decisions made in the NHS.

Healthcare Scientists are critical for the delivery of healthcare and also in the development of tests and treatments for the future, and it is exactly the skills I learnt in my Healthcare Science discipline of Cardiac Science that allowed me to follow my clinical academic career. Way back in 2008 my future PhD supervisor, Dr Klaus Witte, wanted to undertake a series of studies in people with pacemakers that would require an individual to be able to perform and report a cardiac ultrasound, interrogate and program an implantable pacemaker, and perform and report a cardiopulmonary exercise test. Fortunately I could perform all three. We were kindly allocated the space, time and facilities to commence our program at LTHT, and we began our journey. Klaus and I were, and still are, a great team, and to our credit one of our studies from our one day per week of research activity has informed 2 international guidelines.

In 2012 I took the gamble of resigning my permanent role at LTHT and began my first full-time research role as co-ordinator of the BHF funded REM-HF study, the world’s largest study of remote care of people with heart failure and implantable cardiac devices. It was in 2015 that Klaus, himself an NIHR Clinician Scientist, thought I was the right person, with a good project, in the right place, to apply for an NIHR Healthcare Scientist (now ICA) Fellowship. With his drive and guidance, alongside Professor Sue Pavitt and Professor Mark Kearney, we worked hard on my application and I received the both daunting (as a self-confessed hater of public speaking) and exciting news of being invited to interview. And, following hours of practice, during which Klaus, Sue and Mark gave up their valuable time, I was successful at interview and was awarded a fellowship.

The three years that followed provided invaluable opportunities to travel, attend conferences, undertake research training, and publish work in prestigious journals. In no time at all two years had passed, and I began thinking about the next step in my career. I was at a bit of a crossroads, as I assumed as a non-medical professional, that I had to continue along the ICA pathway. This didn’t seem like the perfect fit for me, as although I still enjoy patient contact and get to experience this in my day to day work, I didn’t relish the prospect of a 50:50 clinical academic split. Fortunately I was introduced to Professor Anne-Maree Keenan. Anne-Maree suggested I follow the “Fellowships for all” programme, assuring me it was the correct move! Again, with the help of Klaus, Anne-Maree and Mark, relentless work on my application and interview practice paid off, and I was awarded an NIHR Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 2018.

The fantastic professional network and friendships that I have developed at the University of Leeds and LTHT, have undoubtedly contributed to the success I have experienced in my clinical academic career so far. Teamwork is vitally important in the NIHR application process, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the help I have so far from my colleagues and friends at the University of Leeds and LTHT.