Can you tell us a bit about yourself and research and/or career to this point?
I’m an academic GP, which means I spend part of my week working as a GP and the other part undertaking research at the University of Exeter. My career started with my medical degree which I completed in Cambridge, along with an intercalated degree in natural sciences. I then went off to work in London as a doctor for my first foundation year, followed by a second foundation year out in New Zealand. I’d always been interested in research and while out there took the opportunity to get involved in a project looking at babies born with a condition known as gastrochisis and I got to present my findings at my first international conference in Queenstown in New Zealand. After a year of trying more specialties I came back to the UK with a really strong desire to do more research and I took a post as a clinical research associate in the group of Professor Roger Barker in Cambridge, researching Parkinson’s Disease. This well and truly got me addicted to research but I had to decide on a specialty to work in and where in the country to work! I decided to become a GP as I find the work varied, interesting and challenging and of course there are so many options for research. We decided on Exeter as it is the place most like where we lived in New Zealand with a good university and transport links. Since then I’ve completed my GP training and an academic clinical fellowship in primary care. I’ve experienced lots of aspects of research before deciding to focus long term on early cancer diagnosis. This is an area of research I am passionate about from both personal and professional angles and Exeter has a leading research group in the field.
What are you aiming to do through your research?
My NIHR SPCR GP primary care progression fellowship expanded on the work of my academic clinical fellowship, estimating the impact on patients of reducing the threshold for urgent cancer referrals. I am now writing up the results of this 1 year fellowship for publication. It also allowed me time to develop a doctoral fellowship application. My next step now is a Wellcome primary care clinician PhD fellowship starting in September 2022, this programme is also administered by the SPCR.
In my PhD I am planning to develop and validate risk prediction models for cancer diagnosis in patients presenting to their GP with symptoms. I want to use all the data that is held within a GP record to help me build the most accurate prediction model. I also plan to compare traditional statistical techniques with newer machine learning techniques to find which gives the most accurate (and most usable) models. Finally I want to test the models to find out what their impact might be on patients and healthcare systems.
What are you looking forward to most in starting your studentship?
This is an opportunity for me to work on a project that I have developed myself and am very passionate about. I will have the opportunity to learn new skills, develop new networks and complete an in depth project that I hope will have a positive impact on patient outcomes in future.
Tell us something about yourself that may be less well known
I’ve probably already had my highest impact publication… I think it was my appearance in Hello! magazine in a full page feature showing my sister, artist Emily Powell, and I painting the front entrance of Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Thank you to University of Exeter Collaboration for Academic Primary Care (APEx) for their permission to repost Sarah's blog, you can read this and other APEx Blogs on their website.