NHIP Academy: Meet our Community

Dr Sunil Bhopal

We are delighted to begin a series of articles introducing some of our NHIP Academy community – sharing the stories of their research journeys and careers so far.

Dr Sunil Bhopal

The first features Dr Sunil Bhopal, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer in Paediatrics at Newcastle University and final year specialty registrar at the Newcastle upon Tyne Great North Children’s Hospital.

Sunil’s research aims to improve the health and wellbeing of young children in the UK and in low- and middle-income countries, focussing on the first thousand days through pregnancy and the early years of life which are critical to optimal lifelong health. He is particularly interested in the role of childhood adversity during this time, and science-based approaches to improving life chances for children living with adversity.

His journey began in 2010 when Sunil came to Newcastle Hospitals from Leeds to embark on his first job as a doctor – and also kick start his academic career by taking part in the Academic Foundation Programme. This scheme is designed to provide the first step for those looking to access academia as it provides medics and dentists with experience of research alongside their next phase of training. It is led by the NHIP Academy Medics and Dentists career development programme, “Pillar”.

The next stage for Sunil was to complete an Academic Clinical Fellowship, which is part of the NIHR Integrated Academic Track (IAT) and is also led by the Medics and Dentists Pillar of NHIP Academy. This is a predoctoral fellowship and is a post Sunil applied to do using evidence of interest and experience in research developed via his Academic Foundation Programme.

He describes his IAT experience in Newcastle as an “incredible, supportive, flexible programme which allowed me to follow my heart!”. The scheme also placed him in an excellent position to then go on to complete a Wellcome Trust funded PhD Fellowship at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, before returning back to Newcastle.

Sunil’s research journey has taken him around the world. His research focuses on improving life-chances through the crucial early years period – this has included taking hair and saliva samples from one-year olds living in 120 villages across rural India for cortisol stress biomarker analysis. He has also worked to improve childcare for children in urban Nairobi, worked in Sierra Leone, held workshops in South Africa and visited many other countries for research, sharing, and learning work.

In addition to this, his expertise was recognised by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health who awarded Sunil the Lorber Prize in 2020. During the pandemic he collaborated in some of the first published epidemiological findings on childhood mortality, as well as on long COVID in children.

Sunil is now an NIHR Clinical Lecturer and is currently on a secondment in London as a National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow. Here, he works in and learns about the fast-paced world of health policymaking, government interaction, and organisational development as advisor to Professor Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive at the UK Health Security Agency.

He said: “My Research Journey, based out of Newcastle, with travel around the country and the world, has been interesting, exciting, fun, and freeing – I can’t thank my brilliant colleagues enough.  I look forward to developing my career further with the support and guidance of NHIP Academy.”

Read more about Sunil’s current role here: https://www.fmlm.ac.uk/sunil-bhopal

You can also hear about Sunil’s research journey, and more, in his own words on this podcast: https://anchor.fm/globalhealthlives/episodes/Sunil-eq66qa

To find out more about NHIP Academy, visit https://www.newcastlehealthinnovation.org/

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