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Dr Sam Merriel, Dr Jessica Watson and Prof Debbie SharpCentre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol

What do the provision of out-of-hours palliative care services in Oxfordshire, the use and interpretation of inflammatory markers in primary care, health professionals’ recognition of pre-school age childhood obesity, and oil-pulling for the prevention of dental caries have in common? They are just a sample of the research questions presented by academic clinical fellows in general practice at the annual GP Academic Clinical Fellows (ACF) conference in Brighton this month. 

GP ACFs from around the UK meet each year to present their research projects, network with fellow ACFs and primary care academics, learn new research skills and to be inspired by leaders in the field. This year’s conference was hosted by Prof Helen Smith and the Brighton and Sussex Medical School at The Grand Hotel Brighton, a wonderful venue on the Brighton seafront. A number of fascinating keynote speakers showed us the breadth of research possibilities in academic primary care. Prof Jackie Cassell enlightened us on the research potential of the electronic health record. Prof Martin Yeomans has published extensively on obesity, and he shared some of the challenges of the modern obesogenic environment. Primary care is a universal concept and is needed all over the world in all populations, as demonstrated by Prof Gail Davey in her discussion of the history of research into non-filarial elephantiasis.

In addition to some inspiring lectures, ACFs had a number of other learning opportunities. A wide range of workshops covered topics such as recruiting participants for research through social media, translating evidence into practice through implementation science, and working with vulnerable patients. Key debates were held about the ‘ideal’ structure to academic training for GP ACFs, and the challenges we face in balancing clinical and academic careers. A workshop run by the Society for Academic Primary Care (SAPC) emphasised the importance of building academic networks as key to a successful career in academic primary care; we then had several opportunities to put this into practice through guided walks along the Brighton seafront, creative writing workshops and fish and chips on Brighton pier.

The annual GP ACF conference focuses on developing the future leaders of academic primary care: it was best summarised this year by Prof Simon de Lusignan’s key quote; “A research ethos has been at the core of the Royal College of General Practitioners since its founding in 1953”. As GP ACFs, we aspire to maintain and build on this rich tradition.