Top Tips for Balancing Clinical Practice and a Part-time Professional Doctorate

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Allison Scott (@AllisonPoddem) is a professional doctorate student embarking on the design for her project. Her research explores the decision- making experiences o proxy decision makers for people with dementia lacking capacity.

There is no denying doing a PhD of any sort is hard and extremely time consuming, add in the pressures of daily life and in my case the pressures of working full time as clinical lead in a busy podiatry practice, not a week goes by without someone asking, ‘but why do you do it?’ The answer to me is simple, I love it, I love learning, I love the opportunities to meet people from different backgrounds and I love challenging myself. Despite this I can confess there are times when keeping the required level of motivation can be challenging and have therefore come up with these seven top tips for balancing them.

1.   It sounds simple but find a project you are passionate about.

If at the outset you do not have a topic that you care about, you will never commit the amount of time out of work needed to be successful. I am completely driven by the hope that my topic will truly impact and benefit the target population.

2.   Plan your time!

Spend a bit of time setting out a schedule, by doing this you are making a commitment to dedicate that time to the task. This helps to ensure you manage to carve out that much needed down time!

3.   Within your plan, set yourself some mini deadlines.

Despite the cohort of the professional doctorate when it has been a while since you met or discussed your project with anyone it can be all too easy to push it to the back of your to-do-list. By setting your own deadlines you are creating some personal accountability, driving you to keep going.

4.   Work at a time that works for you!

I find after a long day in clinic I struggle to switch to researcher mode in the evenings. It took a while to work out a pattern that works best for me, but I find getting up early doing 1-2 hours research work before a walk with the dog to clear my head really sets me up for the day ahead and gives me a sense of achieving something, chipping away little and often at my project. Managing my time in this way also frees up some guilt free family time in the evenings.

5.   Make time to do what you enjoy.

Constantly working between clinic and research will eventually get you down and can lead to you resenting both. Make sure to spend your down time doing what you enjoy. For me it is getting out into the hills with my dog for some much-needed escapism. It will often amaze you the ideas and different angles that will pop into your head when you are not staring at a screen hoping for inspiration.

6.   Learn how to say no

It sounds harsh however juggling time to maintain and develop the clinic, continue with your studies as well allowing time to enjoy yourself means that you are going to have to prioritise your time and miss some social events. Your friends and family will understand and are often proud to see the level of commitment you are making.

7.   Most importantly, ENJOY IT!

The process takes you on an undeniable journey at times the conflicting demands will be tough, and you will have to keep long hours but the sense of satisfaction and the impact on you, especially as a clinician are significant. Working through the taught element of the professional doctorate has taught me so much about myself and about my approach to clinical practice. Your confidence will grow, your ability to critique literature and use it to change and implement practice will flourish, your ability to engage meaningfully with others from all different backgrounds will develop and your interests will expand leading to more significant conversations with patients.

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