Woman working in a laboratory

Submitted by Dr Anushi Rajapaksa

As a junior scientist, I recently asked myself the following questions: “what is my contribution to society?” and “Can I make a real difference?” Growing up, I had the option of pursuing either medicine or a career in research. I chose research and I have never looked back, until now.

In my mind, being a clinician (medical doctor) means that you get to make a difference in someone’s life on a day to day basis. I just imagined my clinician colleagues at The Royal Children’s Hospital, routinely working with babies to either save their life or notably improve their quality of life. I would think, “It must be very gratifying to do this every day!”

As a laboratory scientist, the idea of making a difference can sometimes seem far-fetched. Our days are often spent working on experiments in the lab and frequently at a desk writing publications to distribute the findings or applying for grants to support our work. The idea that our papers are going to translate into useful outcomes that the general public can make sense of, or better yet, use to improve their quality of life, is an abstract thought at times.

But research is pivotal in making a difference. Often, research contributes to policy change and translation. In other words, findings from studies are applied in the real world. Although this process takes a lot of time and effort, sometimes with little to no success, there is huge potential for such knowledge transfer.

Man working in a laboratory

The key to knowledge transfer lies in the hands of the researchers. Researchers are curious and will articulate and question natural events. They are often very good at finding solutions to real life problems and backing them up with data, which forms the basis of scientific rationale and knowledge. As you can image, this is a very powerful exercise!

The clinicians are at the front line mostly to deliver the results of medical research. The majority of successes from medical research will reach the patient via a clinician, who will prescribe a particular therapy. Whether this is in the form of a medication or a medical device, the particular medication or therapy will have already achieved immense success in the journey of being translated into a useful product from an earlier research finding. The clinicians are key players at the end of the pipeline which helps translate clinical difference into practice and make changes in public health.

Similar to laboratory scientists, clinicians are also often driven by curiosity and are highly motivated to change practice. They are excellent at identifying clinical needs but often find it difficult to find the time to pursue research in addition to their busy clinical load. In my mind, they are key players in driving clinically need driven research, especially at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital.

We are extremely lucky as laboratory scientists at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute to be working with a group of experts called “clinician-scientists” who bring a vast range of expertise to the table. They are trained as medical doctors and also have PhDs, which means they spent many years training to be where they are. As a laboratory scientist, I am grateful to be part of an Institute where I get to see the real world application of my research. For this reason, I am glad that I looked back and am even more content with the choices I have made.

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