Bones and a reflection on training opportunities

01 March 2013

I have to admit, bones do play a key role in my life, not only do they allow me to get about, safely protecting my internal organs, balancing my calcium and providing me with a ready supply of haemopoetic cells, but bones also provide the ‘back-bone’ to my working life both as an orthogeriatrician and as an epidemiologist.

I remember when I was starting out as a SpR in geriatrics; I had that feeling of wanting to ‘do some research’, but was in that all too common position of wondering ‘where do I start’? That year a course was advertised in the BGS newsletter ‘Osteoporosis and other metabolic bone diseases’. I was just beginning to develop an interest in orthogeriatric medicine and this residential course, run at one of the Oxford colleges and specifically aimed at trainees, offered a comprehensive overview of osteoporosis biology, treatments, monitoring, and radiology, as well as topics such as renal osteodystrophy, primary hyperparathyroidism and Paget’s disease. It proved a really educationally valuable few days and the course manual provided an excellent reference resource for a number of years.

I met a number of other trainees through the workshops and lecturers, but as things would work out, it was over pudding at the course dinner that I met a rheumatologist who, whilst I didn’t know at the time, would go on to supervise my PhD and current postdoctoral fellowship; perhaps one of my first, albeit hesitant, forays into ‘networking’, which transpired to be a pivotal influence on my career.

The ‘Osteoporosis and other Metabolic Bone Diseases’ clinical training course is now an established annual event attended by geriatric, rheumatology, endocrinology and other trainees. Chaired by Prof Tash Masud (Nottingham) and Prof Jon Tobias (Bristol) it is a fantastic 3-day course based at St Catherine’s College in Oxford with talks from an all-star cast from the bone world (Next opportunity: 20-22 March 2013 http://www.brsoc.org.uk/brsosteo2013/).  Whilst acknowledging my bone biases, I recommend it to all our specialist trainees as it complements the geriatric training curriculum and one never knows what opportunities might arise from those one meets.

The ‘Osteoporosis and other Metabolic Bone Diseases’ course, endorsed by the BGS, is organised by the Bone Research Society; a veritable vertebrae in the back-bone of my working life! I just want to dwell for a few minutes upon the opportunities the Bone Research Society (BRS) offers, particularly to our trainees.

The BRS was founded in 1950, which makes it the oldest society in the world dedicated to clinical and laboratory research into bone (www.brsoc.org.uk). It brings together physicians and scientists and prioritises the support and development of New Investigators (which includes specialist trainees). To this end the BRS subsidizes a series of initiatives for New Investigators such as travel grants to attend conferences, Barbara Mawer Travelling Fellowship Awards and New Investigator workshops. Barbara Mawer Travelling Fellowship Awards fund a short period working with another research group to develop new expertise that one might not otherwise be able to do, whilst New Investigator workshops give practical teaching on grant and CV writing, networking and career pathways. The BRS has annual national conferences; abstracts are judged, New Investigator awards made, and material is published within the new open-access BRS journal Frontiers in Bone Research (www.frontiersin.org/bone_research), now PubMed indexed. Since becoming a member in 2006, I’ve attended conferences in a number of UK cities and the next will be in Oxford in September 2013 (www.brsoc.org.uk/brsbors2013). Reflecting the increasing interest in ageing research, one key symposium will be dedicated to Musculoskeletal Ageing.

It is difficult as a specialist trainee to balance all the demands on your time and still find the space to plan your career in the longer term. However, if you too have that feeling of wanting to ‘do some research’ but not knowing ‘where do I start’, I’d suggest, whether your interest is orthogeriatric or not, attending courses and conferences with an open opportunity-seeking mind, and not to be afraid of making yourself feel uncomfortable by ‘networking’. I for one would have an open ear.

Dr Celia L Gregson

Consultant Geriatrician and Senior Lecturer

Royal United Hospital, Bath & Musculoskeletal Research Unit, University of Bristol

celia [dot] gregson [at] bristol [dot] ac [dot] uk

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