NHIP Academy: Meet our Community

Dr Susanna Mills


Dr Susanna Mills is a medically qualified public health doctor. From September 2024, she will be embarking on a Newcastle University Academic Track (NUAcT) Clinical Academic Fellowship, where she will be aiming to identify and address excess weight amongst people living with severe mental illness, in hospital and the wider community.

This is a joint clinical academic role and Dr Mills will also be working as a Consultant in Public Health at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW). The time split in this NUAcT Fellowship of 80 per cent research and 20 per cent public health clinical work aims to provide a balance between propelling promising research careers forward, whilst flexibly maintaining a clinical role.

Dr Mills has long-standing research interests in public health nutrition, diet and obesity. A recent New Investigator Award from the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) – Novo Nordisk Foundation, will support her research to focus on people living with severe mental illness (SMI), namely schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders.

People with SMI tend to die on average 15-20 years earlier than the wider population and most deaths are due to avoidable physical health conditions including overweight and obesity, caused by medication and behaviours such as poor diet and lack of exercise. This results in great personal suffering, and high resource use and expenditure for the NHS.

Dr Mills’ research seeks to transform the health and wellbeing of historically overlooked population groups, through informing local and national policy concerning excess weight and related physical health conditions and developing more integrated models of care for people living with multiple health problems, whether these be physical, mental or both.

Dr Mills said:

“Working as a public health doctor in a mental health NHS trust enabled me to see first-hand the significant challenges encountered by people living with SMI, in terms of weight and obesity. The odds are very much stacked against these individuals to maintain a healthy weight, particularly in secure care (forensic locked wards), so additional planning, resources and support are crucial.

“Through this research I seek to achieve parity of esteem between physical and mental health conditions, and overall improvement in mental and physical health outcomes for vulnerable groups.

“I believe there are reciprocal benefits to being engaged in both research and clinical work. Research is exciting as it keeps me at the cutting edge of my field and aims to develop new insights and opportunities to advance public health science. At the same time, maintaining my clinical work helps me better understand the practical challenges and priorities in the clinical domain, which makes my overall programme of work more realistic and grounded.”

Dr Mills’ Advice

“Fellowships are a tremendous opportunity because they focus on you, rather than solely the research and clinical work you undertake. This helps to develop yourself as a rounded, accomplished individual, who in turn is more competitive for future applications and awards.

“However, applying for fellowships takes time and effort and should not be underestimated. You need to be dedicated to the cause and prepared to stray outside your comfort zone to be successful.

“Utilise resources available to you and take as many opportunities as you can to strengthen your networks and skills, as this will place you in a more competitive position for Fellowship applications.”

NHIP Academy unlocks career development opportunities for the next generation of health and care researchers. The academy has supported Dr Mills throughout her NUAcT Fellowship application, by providing structured feedback, and key information on opportunities and developments.

Professor Dave Jones, NHIP Academy Director, said:

“It has been a privilege to support Susanna through the process of her application and provide guidance for her research career. Her area of research is so important for everyone in our community and a very topical subject.

“The academy offers numerous training and networking opportunities to provide as much support as we can to ensure those on their academic career pathway have the resources they need. Susanna took advantage of what was available to her through the academy, and it massively benefitted her when it came to the application process.

“We are excited to follow Susanna through this important research and look forward to the results she finds.”

Justina Heslop, Newcastle University Academic Track Fellowship Scheme (NUAcT) Manager, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Susanna to our cohort of 66 NUAcT fellows working across the three faculties in diverse disciplines.

“We are delighted to be able to offer the clinical NUAcT fellowship model made up of 20 per cent clinical time and 80 per cent research time with PhD studentship and a generous start-up fund to support our fellows on their pathway to research independence and leadership.”

If you would like support on your career development pathway, please contact NHIP Academy.

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