Sarah Garner, Academic Clinical Fellow

Sarah Garner has just finished her first year as an Senior House Officer level Academic Clinical Fellow (ACF) at Bristol Dental Hospital. Qualifying as a dentist with Honours from the School of Oral and Dental Sciences at the University of Bristol in 2009, she returned in 2012 as an ACF, having been encouraged to apply for the position by Professor Jonathan Sandy, Head of the Dental School.

The ACF scheme aims to give recently qualified doctors and dentists, who have an interest in clinical academia but little experience of research, a taste of what this involves while maintaining their clinical skills. Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and lasting for up to three years, the Academic Fellow spends 75 per cent of the  time working as a clinician and the remaining 25 per cent in research. This enables them to gain a realistic idea of what working in clinical academia involves, while keeping their career options open.

“I’m someone who is keen to have a lot of variety in my career, so this post suits me down to the ground,” said Sarah. “I am able to spend time working clinically, developing my skills in areas that interest me, while also getting involved with undergraduate teaching and conducting original research. I work alongside internationally respected clinicians and scientists in a really stimulating and supportive environment.”

After spending some time with different research groups in the Dental School, Sarah decided to join the Oral Nanoscience Group, finding this group’s research particularly fascinating and relevant to restorative dentistry, her specialist interest.

“Since May I have been working on the deposition of chlorhexidine nanoparticles onto silicones used in the construction of obturators, removable devices that help patients eat, drink and speak more easily following surgery to their palate. At present these obturators can be difficult for patients to keep clean and tend to become a reservoir of bacterial and fungal infections, not pleasant at the best of times, but in patients undergoing chemo or radiotherapy following oral cancer, they can be quite debilitating. Since chlorhexidine is an antimicrobial agent, we believe that incorporating it onto and into these materials will help to reduce infections in these patients.”

Sarah has spent the last nine months on research and will return to clinical work in restorative dentistry and oral surgery in 2014.  At the same time, she plans to obtain funding for a PhD, using the data she has collected this year, so she can continue her research.

“I have been extremely well supported throughout my first year here by staff in both the School and dental hospital and I’m excited about the next two years and what they will bring,” says Sarah.

“This post has been a fantastic opportunity for me to experience clinical academia whilst maintaining my skills as a clinician, and has confirmed to me that this is where my future career lies. It’s great that my job gives me the best of both worlds – a wide variety of clinical experiences alongside stimulating research: the variety I’ve been looking for since graduation!”

The ACF scheme suits me down to the ground; I am able to spend time working clinically, developing my skills in areas that interest me, while also getting involved with undergraduate teaching and conducting original research.

Sarah Garner, Academic Clinical Fellow

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