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Ben Ainsworth: SPCR Fellow writes:

I was thrilled when I was awarded the NIHR School for Primary Care Research (SPCR) place on the TUTOR-PHC course this year. The course (known as ‘Tutor’ by the mentors and trainees) is a one-year program that aims to support primary care research trainees in Canada. This year there were 14 trainee places available – 13 Canadian researchers who ranged across academic and clinical backgrounds – including Post-docs and PhD students, epidemiologists, sociologists, pharmacists, nurses and family doctors… and one psychologist (which was me!). The competition for places was stiff, with one other trainee telling me that they had applied for the course 3 times previously before being accepted.

The course as a whole consists of a 3-day ‘intensive symposium’ (this year it was in Bromont, near Montreal in Canada) followed by online workshops and seminars that are conducted throughout the year. The symposium fully expects you to ‘hit the ground running’ – by which I mean there was a lot of pre-reading that was drawn upon throughout the discussion 3 days. As well as being interesting in its own right, this pre-reading was actually really useful to ‘level’ the wide range of experience and disciplines that were represented by the trainees. Having a very experimental background, I used it as a chance to wrap my head around the Canadian healthcare system, and its differences and similarities with our UK system. What was notable was the emphasis that both systems put on research in primary care to help patients – as demonstrated by the investment into the TUTOR programme.

Bromont is a ski resort, although sadly it wasn’t in season. The uncharacteristic grey skies lead to a lot of “well I see you brought the British weather with you” conversations! 

Throughout the symposium, trainees are encouraged to engage with mentors wherever possible (at mealtimes, during free time and also during specific sessions, such as the poster session in which we were able to present our own work). Mentors are, like the trainees, from a wide range of Primary Care backgrounds, and being able to chat to all of them informally was a great way to understand exactly how primary care can really benefit from collaborative, interdisciplinary research teams. The opportunity to sit down and really talk to the massively skilled primary care mentors (some of whom were even Tutor trainees 10 years ago!) was an incredibly motivating privilege, and something that the Tutor course is rightly proud of.

Perhaps the best part of the symposium was on the second and third days, when the trainees were split into two teams and tasked with generating research questions to solve a primary care project. Although the process was carefully facilitated by a mentor, it was an awesome example of how many people with different backgrounds can work together to solve a problem in primary care – and it didn’t take long for the range in expertise and experience (and countries!) to be recognised as a strength. 

Making friends with the other trainees was a great experience, and I’m genuinely hopeful that real collaboration between us will happen in the years to come. I’m looking forward to the online courses over the next year, and also to putting my newly acquired ‘transdisciplinary understanding’ into action in my NIHR SPCR Translational Post-doctoral Fellowship in developing psychological interventions for asthma!

Contact Ben Ainsworth at the University of Southampton