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Enhancing endocrine education: for medical students by medical students

Vaishali Limbachia is an intercalating medical student at Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia (UEA). Vaishali has completed four years of the course enter their final year in September 2021. Last year, Vaishali became Secretary of UEA Endocrinology Society and in November 2020 became an Endocrine Ambassador for the Society for Endocrinology. In this guest blog, Vaishali shares what the UEA Endocrinology Society has been up to so far, and the importance of supporting and encouraging students in endocrinology.

*pictured Vice President, Vaishali Limbachia (left), and President of UEA Endocrinology Society, Milly Green (right).

First, I would like to introduce our society. We are a society run by medical students, for medical students. The committee consists of 4th year, intercalating, and 5th year medical students. Guided by the President, we organise revision sessions for medical students currently learning diabetes and endocrinology, in addition to other events that aim to raise interest in endocrinology. We also run social media pages, keeping our members informed of our society news and events, as well as Society for Endocrinology activities. To further engage with our members, weekly diabetes and endocrinology exam-style, multiple-choice questions are created by the committee members and posted on our social media pages.

Each academic term we have organised and delivered a teaching session on diabetes and on endocrinology. The aim of these sessions is to revise content from the medical school curriculum, which at Norwich Medical School, is taught in year 3. The presentation slides used for lectures are constructed by committee members. It can be challenging to cover a module worth of content in a couple of hours. The sessions are taught by medical students who have undergone diabetes and endocrinology teaching, placements and exams, so are able to provide useful tips.

On top of the teaching sessions, we organise and run mock objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs), aiming to give medical students a practice run. We design 6 stations, for example a diabetic foot examination and communication skills station, to give members a realistic experience of the summative OSCE. Each committee member runs one station to keep that station consistently delivered. At the end of each station, we feedback verbally to students. In addition, we provide a marking scheme, which we constructed for written feedback, so students can see where marks were given. This allows students to gauge their learning needs in preparation for their summative OSCE. These mock exams are highly subscribed and the feedback is very positive.

This year I organised our first Diabetes and Endocrinology Careers Event, targeted at medical students. Three consultants kindly volunteered their time to speak at the event. Each spoke about their motivating force that led them to choose this specialism, their professional journey, what their day-to-day life is like and shared top tips for medical students. This was followed by an opportunity to ask questions. Speakers shared highly interesting patient cases, showing how the specialism involves detective work and how endocrinology impacts multiple systems. Each speaker’s professional journey was very different, emphasising how there is more than one path to follow. Many useful tips were shared, for example getting involved in research, and opportunities at the Society for Endocrinology. It was a highly inspiring and informative event, that I personally enjoyed, and the feedback was positive, with the only suggestions for improvement being they wished it was longer! I found the event reinforced my passion for specialising in diabetes and endocrinology in the future.

I have had a fantastic year working with great colleagues, who share an interest in diabetes and endocrinology, in organising events and sharing our interests with other students. Next academic year, I will fortunately continue being a part of this brilliant society and assume the role of Vice President of UEA Endocrinology Society. I look forward to working with the new committee members, putting on more events and continuing to share Society for Endocrinology activities and opportunities to members.

Find out more and apply to become an Endocrine Ambassador.

Please email ambassadors@endocrinology.org if you have any questions.

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Meet Daniel Drucker the Society’s 2020 Transatlantic Medal winner

Dr Daniel Drucker is a clinical researcher involved in the development of treatments for diabetes, obesity and intestinal disorders at the University of Toronto Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute. He also holds the Canada Research Chair in Regulatory Peptides and the Banting and best Diabetes Centre-Novo Nordisk chair in Incretin biology. He will be giving his Society Transatlantic Medal Lecture during SfE BES Online 2020. In this interview he tells us a little about his research and career.

Tell us about your research and lab in Toronto

I have a medium-sized lab of 8 people, where we use molecular biology and mouse physiology to study peptide hormone action. Whenever possible, we also try and extend our findings to humans, using available tissues, or occasionally, by carrying out small clinical trials. The lab has carried out basic research leading to two new treatments for type 2 diabetes and one new therapy for short bowel syndrome.

Tell us about your career path

I was very fortunate to learn molecular biology under the tutelage of Joel Habener in Boston. I returned to Toronto and was guided to adopt transgenic and knockout mice, which proved to be wise counsel. I think I am most proud of my dozens of trainees and their success. We also take pride in being extremely careful-that sounds trite, but we are generally not as concerned about being first, rather, we are very focused on making sure the data and observations are as correct as they can be. This article includes some of my career highlights in discovery, characterization, and clinical development of glucagon-like peptides.

What inspired you to choose endocrinology as a career?

I had a great role model, Gerard Burrow, who was an enthusiastic mentor, and head of endocrinology. At the same time, endocrinology was appealing since one could understand many of the disorders, and there were multiple treatments available to correct endocrine deficiencies or hormone excess states.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I like the ability to ask questions, carry out experiments, and then scrutinise the answers. Watching trainees mature as scientists is also very enjoyable. Finally, having the good fortune to see basic science translated into new medicines is a privilege and extremely rewarding.

What are you presenting during your Medal Lecture at SfE BES Online 2020?

My presentation, ‘Incretins and Cardiometabolic Disease-An Inflammatory Perspective’ will examine how inflammation underlies many of the common endocrine disorders in metabolism, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease, to the complications of obesity and fatty liver. Gut peptides, exemplified by GLP-1, attenuate inflammation in many organ systems. I will describe how GLP-1 might work, and highlight many unanswered questions, surrounding the anti-inflammatory actions of GLP-1.

What do you think about the move to virtual meetings?

Virtual meetings allow for a broader and larger global audience, and enable us to continue to share data and concepts. I suspect that many of us still miss the social and personal interactions, and we will be keen to return to many of the in person meetings once this is feasible.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?

Funding!

What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

I am hopeful that stem cell therapy will solve many challenges and mature to allow for true beta cell replacement therapy for people with type 1 diabetes.

Any words of advice for aspiring endocrinologists?

Have fun, find a good environment, choose mentors that are supportive, and don’t take yourself too seriously!

You can hear Dr Daniel Drucker’s Medal Lecture “Incretins and Cardiometabolic Disease-An Inflammatory Perspective” on Wednesday 18 November at 15:55 GMT.

If you haven’t already, register for SfE BES Online now!

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Video advice for adrenal insufficiency patients

Kerrie Grounds, Lead Endocrine Specialist Nurse (ESN) at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital (RLUH) and her team have produced an educational video for patients with adrenal insufficiency. Here she explains what inspired them to create this invaluable and informative patient resource.

Kerrie Grounds adrenal crisis video image

I work with a team of fabulous, dedicated ESN’s named: Amanda Hamilton, Karen Jones and Michelle Lewin. We have created a short video for all our patients with adrenal insufficiency to access via the internet. This video provides education regarding steroid replacement therapy; sick day rules and demonstrates how to prepare and administer the hydrocortisone emergency injection should this be required in the event of an adrenal crisis. We feel this information is vital for improving quality of life for all patients with adrenal insufficiency and urge you to share the video.

Why did we create the video?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we commenced group education sessions for all our patients with adrenal insufficiency to deliver education regarding their steroid replacement, sick day rules and hydrocortisone emergency injection training. We ensured that at the end of each session everybody received their emergency injection prescription/ancillaries/travel letter/ sharps bin and patient information support pack, including surgical guidelines /steroid treatment card/medic alert identification etc. These sessions have been well received and the feedback has been very positive. It was delivered in a relaxed environment and I think the tea/coffee and biscuits also helped!

Then COVID-19 arrived! A very difficult and scary time for everyone involved and our main aim was to ensure all our adrenal insufficiency patients had access to an emergency injection. We have over 300 patients at present under our ESN team that we review. As we had to suspend our group education sessions, we created a letter for our patients to take to their own GP’s to prescribe the emergency hydrocortisone injection. Primary care played a vital role in ensuring our adrenal insufficiency patients all had access to this injection. We also sent our patient information packs, which we used to provide in our education sessions, to our patients alongside ancillaries (needles and syringes) to enable them to administer their injections, which also covered guidance from the Society for Endocrinology COVID-19 guidelines. We provided our ESN contact details and advised them to access the ADSHG Professor John Wass video regarding their emergency injection training. We tried our very best to ensure our patients received as much information as possible to protect them in the event of an adrenal crisis. We had an administration clerk, Ann Marie Brookes, whom played a vital role in assisting us with this. I will be forever grateful to my team for working together at such a difficult time.

We can honestly say that although Professor John Wass’ emergency injection video was very informative and inspired us, we felt that our patients would receive the video better if they saw familiar faces….who better to deliver this than their own ESN’s. We also wanted to cover steroid replacement during illness. Due to lockdown we were unable to provide face-to-face education sessions and we felt that creating a video was not only the best way, but the safest way forward. Our departmental manager gained funding for us to record the video, we created the script and practised it on our own and then filmed the video, all in one day. Please remember we are nurses and not actors and it was rather nerve racking for us all!

Why am I so passionate about this?

My ESN role is not just an occupation for me. I am passionate about endocrinology and have learned so much in the 8 years I have worked with the Endocrinology team, here at the RLUH. I work with a fabulous team of Endocrine/Diabetes Consultants at the RLUH and as mentioned above Endocrine Specialist Nurses. It still fascinates me every day and there is always room to learn within this role.

However I also have Addison’s disease. I was diagnosed at the age of 18 and have lived with this condition for 22 years now. I have always been a positive person and my glass is always half full. When diagnosed I weighed about six stone and had been unwell at home for three months, fading away. I could not stand up or eat anything, I was nauseous, vomiting, had headaches, the fatigue was so debilitating and it was frustrating for me and family as we did not know what was wrong. However, a positive side to that was I had a fabulous tan!. When I was eventually admitted to hospital and diagnosed with Addison’s disease I remember being so thankful to all the nurses and doctors who had helped me. This was when I realised I wanted to be able to give something back, so I trained to be an adult registered nurse and have never looked back. I can honestly say that when the ESN job post was advertised I thought I knew quite a bit about my Addison’s disease but I knew nothing! This job has literally saved my life. This is why I will always be thankful to my Endocrinology Consultants and fellow ESN’s here at the RLUH for the education and training they provided me, to be able to not only ensure I have a perfectly normal quality of life but to be able to provide specialist advice and empathy for my patients.

I know only too well the symptoms of low cortisol and adrenal crisis and I would say the fatigue is the worst symptom that we have to learn to live with. However, I am a mother to two beautiful boys and a full-time ESN. I have perfectly normal quality of life and feel blessed every day that I am able to manage my Addison’s disease.

Here is our Emergency Injection Steroid Replacement Video on the RLUH website or watch it on YouTube. Please share this widely and help to keep adrenal insufficiency patients safe and informed.

Learn more about Society for Endocrinology guidance on managing adrenal crisis, including a downloadable NHS Emergency Steroid Card.

Learn more about the adrenal glands and related diseases.

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Meet the Endocrinologist: Matthew Simmonds, expert in pancreatic transplant genomics

Meet the Endocrinologist: Meet Dr Matthew Simmonds a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science at the University of Lincoln. His research is focused on the genetics of pancreatic transplant function and he will be presenting at the Early Career session at SfE BES 2018, 19-21 November in Glasgow. In our latest interview, he tells us more about his work and what he is looking forward to at the SfE BES 2018 conference.

Can you tell us a little about your current position and research?

I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln where I have been now for just over two years.  My research career has revolved around trying to identify genetic contributors to a series of autoimmune endocrine diseases including autoimmune thyroid disease and type-1 diabetes.  My current research is specifically focused on looking at genetic predictors of long-term pancreas transplant function in people with severe type 1 diabetes.

What inspired you in to this field?

The immune system is amazing and without it we would never have survived and evolved on this earth. What I find so interesting about the autoimmune endocrine diseases is how the immune system, which is meant to protect us, actually starts to attack parts of the body leading to changes in how the endocrine system works.  I am passionate about understanding how disease pathways are triggered/progress and how we can use these insights to inform better treatments for people with these different conditions.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field of research?

I think the major challenge within pancreas transplantation is both the number of donor organs available for transplantation into people with severe type-1 diabetes and trying to ensure that the transplanted organ remains functional throughout the recipient’s life to ensure the benefits these transplants provide, of retuning insulin production and halting/reversing secondary diabetes related complication in that person, remain for as long as possible.

What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

I think both the advances being made in using induced pluripotent stem cells, combined with gene editing, to create new beta cells, will provide unparalleled new opportunities for transplantation purposes. Combined with the decreased costs around genome and other proteomic screening for patients and our increased understanding of how genetic variation impact upon autoimmunity and transplant success this will give us new understanding of disease progression and provide better individual tailoring of therapeutics.

What will you be doing at SfE BES 2018 in Glasgow?

Well as you have asked – nothing like a bit of shameless plugging – I will be doing a talk on the Tuesday as part of the Early Careers session ‘Navigating the Academic Pathway’.  My talk is entitled ‘The lectureship route’ where I will be providing some insights into this career pathway, the challenges and benefits of this route and some tips on how to be get such a position.

What are you looking forward to at this year’s conference?

I think as an early career researcher I loved going to conferences to be able to present my work and network with others working in the field – which is the same reason I enjoy attending conferences to this day. Whilst there are lots of fantastic talks, plenaries and other sessions throughout the conference with something to suit everyone’s research interests, one thing I would suggest to early career researchers is to take time to speak to other early career researchers at the poster sessions and after their talks.  You would be surprised how much you have in common with other researchers and how random conversations at conferences can lead to new collaborations and possibly job offers in the future.

Who do you most admire and why?

 I have been really lucky to have worked with some of the most amazing researchers in diabetes and endocrinology throughout my career so far – both in the centres I have worked and through numerous collaborations. I have been very lucky to have some amazing mentors throughout the years, and think that whatever stage in your career you are at it is important to keep listening, learning and being inspired by researchers at every level.

What words of wisdom do you have for someone starting out in research?

These type of questions always make me feel old.  Joking aside, I think the best advice I can give to any early career researcher is to think about where you want your career to go but don’t be so rigid in your approach that you may miss out on some unexpected opportunities that come your way. Also listen to your gut feeling about career decisions.  Whilst is it perfectly normal to be scared to take on new challenges be it new techniques, moving into different project areas or new jobs, sometimes you instantly know if something is a good or a bad move. From my own experience I have learnt that sometimes saying no to something that is not right for you is as important as the opportunities you say yes to.

You can hear Dr Simmonds presentation, “The lectureship route” on Tuesday 20 November, as part of the Early Career: Navigating the Academic Pathway session at 16:00-17:30. Find out more about the scientific programme for SfE BES 2018.

 

 

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Meet the Endocrinologist: Interview with Prof Antonio Vidal-Puig

Group Photo - June 2017

Meet Professor Antonio Vidal-Puig, endocrinologist and Society for Endocrinology Medal winner for 2017. Prof Vidal-Puig is based at the Institute of Metabolic Sciences, Cambridge University and at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where his outstanding research, focusing on the link between obesity and associated metabolic complications, has earned him this award, to be presented the annual conference, SfE BES 2017, in Harrogate, 6-8 November 2017. Learn more about his endocrine journey in this exclusive interview.

Q: Tell us a little about your career so far and how you ended up in Cambridge.

Originally from Spain, I studied medicine and trained in endocrinology at Valencia Medical School and Granada Medical School. I held post-doctoral positions in Boston at the Massachussetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Hospital/Harvard Medical School from 1992-1999. There I had excellent mentors including Jeff Flier, Brad Lowell, David Moller and Leo Krall. This was a very intense, exciting and uncertain period, at the epicentre of major discoveries in the field of obesity. This was a period that defined my career, scientific focus, approach to science and reinforced my values. I have been developing my career in the UK, since arriving at Cambridge University in 2000, and now have an established laboratory and have become a Professor of Molecular Nutrition and Metabolism.

Q: Tell us more about your research that led to you being awarded the Society Medal

The lab is interested in why obesity results in diabetes, insulin resistance, fatty liver and ischaemic heart disease, in order to find ways of preventing these complications.

The key concept of our programme is lipotoxicity, which links obesity-related metabolic complications with the excessive accumulation of lipids outside adipose tissue, in organs including muscle, liver and heart. From the concept of lipotoxicity we have developed three main research directions:

  • understanding how the adipose tissue works, with the aim of improving its function and ensuring that lipids remain in adipose. This led to the development of our “adipose tissue expandability hypothesis”, which is now widely accepted by the scientific community
  • developing strategies to burn the excess lipids and prevent lipotoxicity through activation of brown fat
  • promoting that the quality of dietary lipids should be as healthy as possible, to prevent toxic effects.

My Medal Lecture at SfE BES 2017 will summarise our contribution to these three directions.

Q: What are you particularly looking forward to at SfE BES 2017?

I will use this conference for updating clinical aspects of my work. The presentation quality is always good and helpful. One session I am really curious about is Workshop 1: Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine in Endocrinology. I think technology is essential to retain a competitive position in research and the topics presented are highly transferable and of interest. I think tissue engineering approaches to increase brown fat mass could be really helpful in preventing obesity and diabetes, I am curious about the concept and possibilities of using 3D bioprinting.

Q: What have been your career highlights so far?

I feel content about my career progression. I consider highlights to be our best pieces of research; our papers tend to be quite comprehensive and we believe they make important contributions. I think for this reason these contributions are well respected by our colleagues. Our reputation as a lab is important for us. Also as a proud introvert, I have not touted our highlights and have not needed to for our professional highlights to be widely acclaimed, however I do understand that it is important to make the public aware of their implications. Also, as a laboratory leader I know that to disseminate these highlights is important for the careers my lab members. In this respect, winning the Society for Endocrinology Medal is a highlight that reflects the quality and commitment of the present and past members of the laboratory.

At a more personal level, I admit I have an aesthetic approach to science. I enjoy understanding and identifying sophisticated mechanisms, developing models that explain reality and learning how biological systems self-regulate. I don’t think this is unusual amongst endocrinologists. Also, becoming a Professor at Cambridge University was a moment of satisfaction I shared with my colleagues and family. In some ways my career has provided me with professional freedom, which is a key value for me, beyond other motivations, such as power or fame, that I have always found energy draining and restrictive of my autonomy.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges in your research area right now?

I think a big challenge in my research area, and others, is how to extract value from the excessive information generated by recent technological advances. Our challenge is how to analyse this information to prioritise the types of mechanistic validation that are necessary for estimating its relevance. Also, it is not only the amount of data, but the amount of unnecessary noise coming from poor quality research that makes this task more difficult.

Q: What are your future plans for your work & career?

As you become more senior in science, you often suffer the disadvantage that your professional horizon is shorter. However, this position also has the advantage that you can be more selective in your choice of projects, with more freedom to take risks. I think my laboratory in this respect is quite entrepreneurial, we are innovating by entering new fields/technologies, which I think is important for remaining competitive.  For example, we have opened a new lab at Sanger, funded by the European Research Council to work on stem cells and adipose tissue. We are also developing two new programmes of research; one in Nanjing focused on murine models of fatty liver, and another in Bangalore focused on adipose tissue stem cell biology to model obesity and diabetes in India. These are exciting challenges that will provide opportunities for my younger associates in their future careers.

Q: Who do you most admire professionally?

I have learned a lot from many of my mentors, colleagues and trainees. In some way these experiences have shaped my values and my strong views about science and leadership. For example, I have always admired the intellectual rigour and scientific honesty of Brad Lowell. I admired the consistency and confident leadership of Jeff Flier and the legacy of Daniel Lane, who developed many academic scientists in his lab to share his cultural values and collegiality, which they now disseminate to the next generations. I find this very impressive.

Q: Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists out there?

Endocrinology is not a specialty that will make you rich, but it is a specialty where you can fulfill your intellectual scientific needs and enjoy the human aspect of practicing medicine. It is very satisfying because your patients get better and, given that treatments are required long term, an important factor in the success depends on establishing an empathetic relationship with them. You will get to know many of your patients well, from whom you will receive gratitude and a sense of meaning and fulfillment. In this respect it is a very rewarding profession.

Q: What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

I think real breakthrough with long term impact requires deep knowledge and new technologies, I have become quite sceptical about quick or easy breakthroughs that address complex problems. It is important to understand how regulatory systems operate, to learn what the adaptive changes of the organism or cell to maintain normality are, and to determine the intrinsic capacity of these systems to recover normality if the early factors of the disease are removed. For this reason, we focus on early disease events, aiming to prevent or reverse excessive damage to the homeostatic system and regain metabolic control. In this sense, we think it is as important to learn how the problem occurs as it is to learn the trigger and why it occurs. In our field I think understanding how lipids mediate disease could be used for prevention, early diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

You can hear Prof Vidal-Puig’s Society for Endocrinology lecture on Wednesday 8 November, 15:45-16:45, and see the full scientific programme for SfE BES 2017.

Meet Aldons Chua the Endocrine Nurse Grant Awardee

Aldons Chua is a nurse manager of the endocrine investigation suite in Eastbourne. In our interview he tells us about how he came to this role and the research he is doing with his Endocrine Nurse Grant.

How did you get into endocrinology?

I began my career working as an endoscopy and liver transplant nurse in the Philippines. I set foot in England in 2016 and started as a staff nurse in an acute medical unit at Eastbourne DGH. Endocrinology nursing was unknown to me until a colleague and friend who is now my manager, Maria Ravelo, invited me to do some extra shifts in the endocrine suite. During my shifts, I met patients with rare endocrine conditions and hearing their stories made me fascinated with the specialty.

Can you tell us about your current position?

My main role at present is managing the endocrine investigation suite, covering two district general hospitals, which includes performing dynamic function tests and providing health education for patients with adrenal insufficiency. I also facilitate the commencement and monitoring of treatment for general endocrine disorders.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

What I really enjoy is the autonomy as a nurse and collaboration with the multidisciplinary team. There is also so much support from colleagues even from different organisations and a variety of opportunities to grow personally and professionally. And, of course, seeing my patients have an improved quality of life through the care our team provided is the most rewarding part.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Becoming a nurse in the UK is what I consider as my proudest moment. As an overseas Filipino worker, it was a big leap of faith to move away from my family and homeland to work in another country with so much difference in language and culture. But it is such a blessing to have very supportive colleagues and managers who I have worked with since the very beginning, especially when it comes into my career aspirations.

How has your work been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

It has been very challenging. My associate practitioner and I were re-deployed to a COVID ward for 2 months during the first lockdown and our endocrine service was placed on a 10% service capacity. This caused a significant impact on the timings of our patient appointments, especially the investigations and teaching. However, it also made us resilient and innovative in our efforts to maintain the quality of care we provide while ensuring patient safety.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?

We have a vision in our endocrine nursing service to provide excellent, safe and compassionate patient-centred nursing care. The biggest challenge is to keep the vision going, knowing that we only have very limited time and resources.

You have been awarded an Endocrine Nurse Grant, what was the application process and how did you find it?

Initially, I was reluctant to apply, as I had reservations about whether I qualified as I am still an early career nurse. I am very grateful to my mentor/research supervisor Dr Sofia Llahana who encouraged and guided me throughout the process. Also, the Society for Endocrinology set clear guidance on the website and the team were helpful in responding to my queries which made the process easier to follow.

What will the grant be used for?

The grant will be used to fund our research project which is investigating the barriers and enablers in the use of injection devices during adrenal crises for adrenal insufficiency (AI) patients. In the UK, most centres provide 3ml syringes and a needle or a safety syringe, depending on the centre, which are included in an emergency hydrocortisone injection pack. Although AI patients receive training on how to use these syringes there are still reports that they are unable to administer the hydrocortisone injection during an adrenal crisis due to the complexity of the device. First-hand reports of these problems from our own AI patients led to the research project. Adrenal crisis is a life-threatening event and the emergency injection of hydrocortisone can save a patient’s life. This grant will help us explore the experiences of AI patients on their use of the current hydrocortisone device during an adrenal crisis. The outcome will provide evidence of potentially modifiable barriers associated with the use of the current parenteral hydrocortisone in preventing adrenal crisis and will inform the development of future interventions.

What are your plans after completing this project?

I am looking forward to take on future projects looking at how we can further help and support our patients with adrenal insufficiency manage their condition even better. We are starting new nurse-led clinics soon and expanding the endocrine nursing service to help accommodate our increasing number of endocrine patients.

What advice would you give to anyone considering applying for the Endocrine Nurse Grant?

My first challenge was how to begin, so I connected with a mentor who works in the same area. Then, I familiarised myself with how to make a competitive research proposal as this is my first application. I believe that as nurses we have a huge desire to make a difference to the lives of our patients, and research is just one way. Take courage, and if you fail on the first attempt don’t lose heart, just keep on trying and improving.

Learn more about the Society’s Endocrine Nurse Grant and how to apply before the next deadline. Visit our dedicated endocrine nurse careers webpages for more advice and opportunities.

Meet Stephen Shalet the Society’s 2021 Jubilee Medal Lecturer

Professor Shalet is an Honorary Consultant Endocrinologist at the Christie Hospital, Manchester and Emeritus Professor of Endocrinology at the University of Manchester. His main research interests are late endocrine effects following treatment of cancers, pituitary disorders and in particular abnormalities of growth hormone secretion. In our latest interview, he talks about his career, the importance of keeping patient care at the forefront, complemented with an anecdote or two.

Tell us a little about your career path

I completed a BSc in Physiology at London University and qualified in medicine at the Royal London Hospital. My medical training posts in London and Bristol were followed by an appointment as Research Fellow in Endocrinology at the Christie Hospital, Manchester. I formally retired in 2005 but carried on seeing patients until around 2010. Now all I really do is I teach, I like the subject, so it’s not really work, it’s enjoyable. Occasionally, I referee a paper and participate in data safety monitoring boards. I still do a moderate amount of that work, which keeps me in the loop in terms of what’s going on in the field.

“Although I’d never done any research, the focus there was on childhood cancers. The survival figures for kids with cancer had massively increased but now these patients were having growth and puberty problems. That’s why an endocrinologist was needed there.”

What inspired you into research?

I always liked endocrinology, the science is very attractive. At first it makes logical sense, the pituitary controls the thyroid, the thyroid sends a message, the pituitary changes, but then hold on there’s the hypothalamus and it’s that complexity that makes the science really attractive. Clinically, you can have long-term relationships with patients. When qualified, I knew I wanted to do endocrinology but I was then doing a medical registrar job in Bristol and after attending a course on endocrinology, I realised I knew nothing. So I decided if that’s what I wanted to do, I had better learn some and then a Research Fellow position came up in Manchester – and that’s how I got started.

Although I’d never done any research, the focus there was on childhood cancers. The survival figures for kids with cancer had massively increased but now these patients were having growth and puberty problems. That’s why an endocrinologist was needed there.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Clinical practice is what matters, I care about the patients. I’ve always cared about their outcomes. I also enjoy teaching and research. Those are the three components that I need and enjoy and of course they interact. At the end of the clinic, we all used to have discussions where you’d bring the rest of the team up to date, think about what we don’t know, why we don’t know it and how could we know it? That’s all part of the teaching training and research, thinking as well as doing the best for patients.

Has anyone particularly influenced your career?

I can’t tell you that I had a specific mentor but Colin Beardwell was a very good role model. He cared about patient outcome, was intelligent and an excellent teacher. He didn’t have an ego problem and was happy to see a younger colleague develop.

I’d also seen bad guys along the way, really unimpressive, and that showed me who I didn’t wish to become. I tried to feed off the bad guys and I knew I never wanted to be like that.

“At one point in Manchester, we published the worst surgical results for acromegaly in the world. At that time six surgeons did the operating instead of one. You need one because the number of cases isn’t high enough for six to obtain the volume of experience.”

What are you looking forward to at SfE BES 2021 in Edinburgh?

My lecture will look back over my career and research, and include an anecdote or two! When you get to my age, you have friends to catch up with, you may have known them 30 or 40 years and only have that once a year chat but I look forward to it.

I have a funny Edinburgh story from years ago. I flew from Manchester to Edinburgh and was waiting for a taxi outside the airport. A taxi driver approached me and asked something that sounded like ‘do you want sex’? The whole queue could hear as I replied, as reasonably as I could, that I did not want sex, it was November and very cold, but I thanked him very much for the offer. At that point the taxi driver clarified the taxi was a six seater and he wanted to know whether there was six people in my party! That was one of my most memorable Edinburgh conversations.

What do you think are the main challenges in your field right now?

Late effects of cancer treatment is still a challenge. You’re always catching up as these can occur up to 10 years after treatment. There needs to be expert resource available to treat the problems as they arise. Another issue is transition to adult life. Bridging the gap between paediatric and adult care can be very difficult. New more targeted treatments such as proton beam therapy will still cause endocrine damage, which may need to be tackled differently.

What do you think will be the next major changes for endocrinology?

More centralisation of key procedures. You need real expertise for these procedures, which may not come up very often around the country, centralisation means that volume of experience is contained in a centre of excellence. Although this means fewer endocrinologists get that experience, we need to make sure that patients are getting the best care.

At one point in Manchester, we published the worst surgical results for acromegaly in the world. At that time six surgeons did the operating instead of one. You need one because the number of cases isn’t high enough for six to obtain the volume of experience. Now Manchester has one surgeon and the results are as good as anywhere else. That’s why I think centralisation of certain key procedures will be better for patient care.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?

Try to get a reasonable understanding of yourself. I think that’s the journey. Not everybody is destined to do lots of research, just as some people are better suited to clinical practice whilst others are destined, particularly in a subject like endocrinology, to be lab-based. You should try to work out what combination of clinical work, teaching and research works best for you. 

You can attend Professor Stephen Shalet’s Medal Lecture, “Cancer treatment endocrinopathies and growth hormone status throughout life” on Wednesday 10 November at 4:40pm.

Find out more about the scientific programme for SfE BES 2021.

Meet Roland Stimson the Society’s 2021 Starling Medallist

Roland Stimson is a clinical academic endocrinologist, Professor of endocrinology and a CSO Scottish Senior Clinical Fellow at the University of Edinburgh as well as an honorary consultant at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. His main research interests are obesity, type 2 diabetes and energy metabolism. Here he tells us about breaking convention to build a career and why loves the discipline.

Tell us about your career path
Although you’re generally told not to stay in one place I’ve done exactly that, I went to university in Edinburgh then undertook my early clinical training just over the water in Fife. I didn’t do a BSc at university as I was keen to start seeing patients during my early clinical training. But I was really interested in human endocrine physiology so developed an interest in research and applied for a clinical fellow position to undertake my PhD with Professors Brian Walker and Ruth Andrew back in Edinburgh. I very much enjoyed this post and continued my clinical and research training with a clinical lecturer position thereafter. Subsequently, I obtained a MRC Clinician Scientist intermediate fellowship and more recently a Scottish Senior fellowship that has allowed me to continue my research in combination with my clinical work as an endocrinologist.

“I was always fascinated by the feedback mechanisms in endocrinology and how you could use these to pinpoint the pathology…”

What inspired you into research?
I’m really interested in human physiology and its dysregulation in disease, from the beginning I wanted to undertake research in humans and have tried to develop new techniques to better understand human physiology. I was always fascinated by the feedback mechanisms in endocrinology and how you could use these to pinpoint the pathology, by definition endocrinology is very much a multisystem discipline and it provides you with tremendous variety.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I really enjoy discovering new mechanisms controlling human physiology, I find that fascinating and I particularly enjoy designing studies to try and answer research questions.

What will you be presenting in your lecture at SfE BES 2021?
I will be talking about our recent research on brown adipose tissue or brown fat in adult humans. This is an organ that increases energy expenditure to generate heat and a lack of brown fat is associated with poorer metabolic health. We’ve undertaken a number of studies in healthy volunteers to determine how human brown fat is regulated and I’ll be talking about the insights we’ve gained.

“I think this is incredibly important to improve patient outcomes not just for our own local patients, but the wider community, and often takes you down paths you never would have imagined so it is a very fulfilling career.”

What do you think are the main challenges in your field right now?
The prevalence of obesity continues to increase and is a major global health problem, therefore we need to find better treatments to safely help people lose weight and prevent the adverse metabolic sequelae of obesity. Many obesity treatments have been withdrawn due to safety concerns so finding pharmacotherapy that can safely achieve weight loss is a major challenge, although there have been some really promising, new developments recently in this area.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?
I’m not sure I have any words of wisdom but I think endocrinology is a fascinating specialty that will continue to be intellectually stimulating for the duration of your career and contains so much variety that everyone should be able to find areas of particular interest to them. I would also certainly encourage young endocrinologists to become involved in research, I think this is incredibly important to improve patient outcomes not just for our own local patients but the wider community, and often takes you down paths you never would have imagined so it is a very fulfilling career.


You can attend Professor Roland Stimson’s Medal Lecture, “Strategies to turn up the heat – investigating human brown adipose tissue function” on Monday 8 November at 2:30pm.

Find out more about the scientific programme for SfE BES 2021.

Meet Heike Heuer the 2021 Pitt-Rivers Lecturer

Professor Heike Heuer is Professor for Molecular Thyroidology at the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at University Hospital Essen – University Duisburg-Essen in Germany. She is interested in thyroid hormone actions in the central nervous system (CNS) and uses mouse models to investigate the function of thyroid hormone transporters and to develop treatment strategies for patients with Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome. As the 2021 British Thyroid Association Pitt-Rivers Lecturer, she will present a plenary at SfE BES 2021. In our interview, she talks about her research and highlights how preclinical animal studies can lead to important and useful clinical advances.

Tell us about your career so far

I studied biochemistry at the Leibniz University in Hanover, followed by a PhD in neuroendocrinology at the Max-Planck Institute for Experimental Endocrinology. As a postdoctoral fellow I joined Carol Mason’s lab in the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University, New York, where I extended my neurobiology training. I was appointed as an independent, junior group leader at the Leibniz Institute on Aging/Fritz Lipmann Institute in Jena, where I headed a neuroendocrinology group working on thyroid hormone transporters. Later I became a tenured group leader at the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Düsseldorf and in 2018, I was appointed as a University Professor for Molecular Thyroidology in Essen.

What inspired you into research?

“I’m pleased that our findings contributed to the rapid establishment of a treatment option for patients with a rare and devastating disease.”

I became interested in neuroendocrinology during my undergraduate degree, as I found it fascinating how peripheral organs communicated with the brain and vice versa. Encouraged by my mentors, Karl Bauer and Theo Visser, I started my research career by examining the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) signaling system in the rodent CNS. I then became intrigued by the profound effects that thyroid hormones exerted on brain development and function. The breakthrough discovery of the highly specific thyroid hormone transporter MCT8 by Theo Visser and colleagues strongly influenced my research. It became unequivocally clear that thyroid hormones need transporters for transmembrane passage and, consequently, for reaching their receptors. The profound neurological phenotype of patients with inactivating MCT8 mutations (also known as Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome) encouraged us to develop mouse models in order to understand the underlying pathogenic mechanisms and also to investigate treatment strategies.

Now, a major focus of my group is to analyse cell-specific TH transporter mouse mutants as we aim to understand which proteins act as critical ‘gate-keepers’ for TH in the CNS, as well as in peripheral organs and how their transport activity is affected under pathophysiological conditions.

“Endocrinology is, in my opinion, a very attractive and exciting research field that offers many interdisciplinary interactions and cross-links with other disciplines.”

What are you proudest of in your career, so far?

With the generation of mice lacking both thyroid hormone transporter Mct8 and Oatp1c1, we successfully established a mouse model that replicates many clinical features of patients with Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome, a severe form of psychomotor retardation. Using this animal model, we were able to test therapeutic strategies including the application of the thyroid hormone analog, Triac. This treatment improved many neural impairments and based on our preclinical data, a first Triac Trial was successfully conducted, and a second Triac Trial is in progress. This highlights the importance of preclinical animal studies and I’m pleased that our findings contributed to the rapid establishment of a treatment option for patients with a rare and devastating disease.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I mostly enjoy lively discussions with colleagues, coworkers and students about scientific studies and novel results.

What will you be presenting in your lecture at SfE BES 2021?

It is indeed a great honor for me to present the Pitt-Rivers lecture at the SfE BES 2021 as Rosalind Pitt-Rivers not only discovered T3 in her pioneering work, but was also the first to establish that the thyroid hormone metabolite, Triac, exerts T3-like effects in animals. To acknowledge her seminal achievements, I will highlight not only the impact of thyroid hormone transporter deficiency on brain development but also discuss how Triac application can improve neural differentiation, and may be a promising treatment option for patients with Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome.

What do you think are the main challenges in your field right now?

According to the classical view, TH action is largely determined by circulating TH levels that are mainly regulated by negative feedback loops within the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis. However, with the recent discovery of patients harboring defects in local TH signaling, e.g. due to genetic TH transporter or receptor mutations, this classical concept of TH action has been challenged. These patients clearly display a discordance between serum TH and TSH concentrations on the one hand, and tissue-specific TH deficiency and/or excess on the other hand. In other words, patients with TH and TSH concentrations within the normal range may still have a “hypothyroid” brain despite a “euthyroid” liver and may benefit from a CNS-specific TH supply. A major challenge is now to identify suitable biomarkers that indicate a tissue-specific change in TH status and to develop clinical strategies to modulate TH status in a cell/organ-specific manner. Certainly, a change in perspective from systemic towards local, tissue-oriented TH action will be needed for comprehensive understanding of TH effects in the body and will ultimately pave the way for the development of novel approaches for modulating cell-specific TH signaling under certain pathophysiological conditions.

What do you think will be the next breakthrough in your field?

I envision that the discoveries of novel mechanisms underlying local control of thyroid hormone action (e.g. identification of additional TH specific transporters or novel modes of TH action) will open new avenues to modulate TH signaling in a tissue- or even cell-specific manner (by applying e.g. novel TH receptor agonists, specific TH transporter inhibitors or novel trojan-horse hormone compounds).

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?

Endocrinology is, in my opinion, a very attractive and exciting research field that offers many interdisciplinary interactions and cross-links with other disciplines. Therefore, I can only strongly encourage young researchers or clinicians to become “endocrinologists”.

And for some words of wisdom, ‘Endocrine systems and their regulatory mechanisms and modes of action are complex – thus do not rely on selected serum values only. Always aim for the complete picture or you might miss important (and maybe yet unknown) local effects.’

You can attend Professor Heike Heuer’s Medal Lecture, Role of thyroid hormone transporters in brain development and function on Monday 8 November at 14:00 GMT.

Find out more about the scientific programme for SfE BES 2021.

Meet Mark Febbraio the Society’s 2021 International Medal winner

Professor Mark Febbraio is a Senior Principal Research Fellow and Investigator of the NHMRC and Head of the Cellular and Molecular Metabolism Laboratory within the Drug Discovery Program at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, at Monash University, Australia. He is also the CSO of N-Gene Research Laboratories Inc., a USA-based Biotechnology Company. His research focusses on understanding mechanisms associated with exercise, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer, with the aim of developing novel drugs to treat lifestyle-related diseases. Here he tells us about his unconventional route into research and how he helped start a new subfield of endocrinology!

Tell us about your career path so far

“Being a scientist is a balancing act between small wins and frequent disappointment. Experiments often don’t work out, papers are frequently rejected and grant applications are often not funded. The key is to savour the small wins.”

I didn’t take the conventional scientific path. After completing my undergraduate degree in exercise science, I became a full-time (semi-professional) triathlete. During a race in Japan, I become extremely heat stressed and dehydrated, so I decided to go back to do a PhD looking at the effect of environmental temperature on muscle metabolism during exercise. For the next 6 years, I worked as an exercise physiologist and undergraduate lecturer until I met Professor Bente Pedersen, a clinician from the University of Copenhagen, which got me into research. Since then, approximately 20 years ago, I’ve devoted 100% of my time to research as an NHMRC Research Fellow and Investigator in the area of tissue crosstalk, exercise and metabolic disease.

What inspired you into research?

Professor Bente Pedersen and I shared data that we had independently gathered showing that during exercise, muscle produces and releases IL-6, a cytokine previously thought to be made predominantly by immune cells in response to inflammation. We coined the term “myokine” (muscle-producing cytokine).

Muscle then became known as an endocrine organ. About 15 years earlier my friends and colleagues, Jeff Flier and Bruce Spiegleman, discovered that adipsin, a serine protease homolog, was synthesised and secreted by adipose tissue, and the field of adipokines was created. Muscle was a little late to the party but we got there eventually!

What are you proudest of in your career, so far?

Of course the IL-6 story was a proud moment, but our work on heat shock protein 70 as a therapeutic target for treating metabolic disease, as well as our recent work on extracellular vesicles and the synthesis of the chimeric protein IC7Fc to treat metabolic disease also make me proud.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

By far, training and interacting with my mentees. It has been wonderful to see so many great people transition through the laboratory and go on to be highly successful independent scientists.

What will you be presenting in your lecture at SfE BES 2021?

Basically, I will be presenting the historical story of how we came to discover that IC7Fc could be a viable treatment for metabolic disease. The story has many twists and turns!

My feelings are that the next breakthrough will come from the global push towards artificial intelligence in drug discovery.”

I think the main challenge is that a complex problem like metabolic disease can’t be cured by simple solutions. Whilst “the molecular age” produced so much important knowledge, it become clear that there is no single molecule that, if targeted, will produce the magic bullet to treat or cure a disease that is so complex.

What do you think will be the next breakthrough in your field?

My feelings are that the next breakthrough will come from the global push towards artificial intelligence (AI) in drug discovery. I’m not saying that we will get the “slam dunk” from AI, but I’m sure we will learn so much via the big data revolution.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?

Being a scientist is a balancing act between small wins and frequent disappointment. Experiments often don’t work out, papers are frequently rejected and grant applications are often not funded. The key is to savour the small wins and understand that the failures are part of building success. I often tell my trainees “in order to be successful you must be prepared to fail”. It’s OK, in fact it’s normal. Above all enjoy the process and don’t focus on the outcome.

You can attend Professor Mark Febbraio’s Medal Lecture, Activation of the gp130 receptor: a panacea for the treatment of metabolic diseases? on Tuesday 9 November at 09:00.

Find out more about the scientific programme for SfE BES 2021.

Meet Greet Van den Berghe the Society’s 2021 European Medal winner

Professor Greet Van den Berghe is the head of the clinical department and laboratory of Intensive Care Medicine at KU Leuven University and its University Hospitals in Belgium. The Leuven Clinical Intensive Care department is a large, tertiary referral centre treating over 3,100 patients per year. She is also Professor of Medicine at KU Leuven and actively researches the endocrinology and metabolism of critical illness. Here she tells about her career, research and how important it is to break boundaries and challenge classical ideas in the pursuit of better patient care.

Tell us a little about your career path
After obtaining my medical degree, I trained in anesthesiology and intensive care, then in biostatistics and later completed a PhD in endocrinology. I followed this path so that I could work at the boundaries of several disciplines, which provided an excellent opportunity to build a multidisciplinary research team and to expand on translational research in endocrinology and metabolism of critical illness, from bed to bench and back.

What inspired you into research?
When I was a junior attending physician in the intensive care unit (ICU), I observed that long-stay ICU patients, both children and adults, quickly began to look much older than their chronological age. At the same time they showed endocrine and metabolic abnormalities that mimicked certain characteristic of ‘ageing’. I hypothesised that maybe this ‘accelerated ageing’ phenotype of ICU patients could in part be iatrogenic, and if so, may be preventable. These thoughts formed the basis for my PhD research, in which I demonstrated that dopamine infusion, a drug commonly used at the time for haemodynamic and renal support, was causing an iatrogenic suppression of the anterior pituitary with harmful consequences. Based on these findings the practice of infusing dopamine in the ICU was abandoned.

“Together we have made exciting discoveries and we were able to repeatedly close the loop from an original idea triggered by patient care, to basic research in the lab and back to randomised-controlled trials in patients.”

In my postdoctoral research, we went a step further and identified biphasic neuroendocrine and metabolic responses to acute and prolonged critical illness in both patients and animal models. This research clarified many earlier, apparent paradoxes and provided the basis for our later work that focused on the acute and long-term harmful impact of hyperglycemia, the early use of parenteral nutrition and the pathophysiology of the HPA axis response to the stress of critical illness.

What are you proudest of in your career, so far?
In 2002, I inherited a very large and well organised clinical intensive care department to chair, upon which I have built research from bed to bench and back again. There was no research in the department when I started, so I had to build everything from scratch. Over the years, this growing symbiosis, between high-level patient care and research, has proved to be very successful. This also allowed me to recruit the best clinicians and scientists who now work effectively together as a very close team.

“I enjoy thinking outside the box, creating new ideas by crossing boundaries between classical disciplines”

Together we have made exciting discoveries and we were able to repeatedly close the loop from an original idea triggered by patient care, to basic research in the lab and back to randomized-controlled trials in patients. That is such great fun! So, I am most proud of my team, and grateful to them for making me happy every day!

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy thinking outside the box, creating new ideas by crossing boundaries between classical disciplines, and working with young, enthusiastic physicians and scientists, to generate new knowledge that forms a solid basis for better patient care.

What will you be presenting in your lecture at SfE BES 2021?
In my talk, entitled “Re-thinking critical illness induced corticosteroid insufficiency”, I will present novel insights from our recent research on HPA axis changes that occur in response to acute and prolonged critical illness. I will challenge the classical paradigm of stress-induced increased ACTH-driven cortisol production as the basis for increased systemic cortisol availability in severely ill patients. I will also challenge the idea that a short ACTH stimulation test can diagnose failure of this stress response.

To say it with a metaphor: “What you see is not always what you get”.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?
Look further than the boundaries of your own discipline, there is much to be learnt and innovated when you go beyond them!

You can attend Professor Van den Berghe’s Medal Lecture, Re-thinking critical illness induced corticosteroid insufficiency on Tuesday 9 November at 18:45.

Find out more about the scientific programme for SfE BES 2021.

How can the Masters-level Module in Endocrine Nursing help your career?

Recent graduate Helen Loo reveals all

Helen Loo, Endocrine Specialist Nurse at Oxford University Hospitals, is one of our first students to successfully complete the Oxford Brookes Masters-level Module in Endocrine Nursing. This module provides nurses with an opportunity to develop their careers and improve standards of patient care in line with the Competency Framework for Adult Endocrine Nursing. The Society collaborates with Oxford Brookes to deliver this 40-credit module, enabling nurses to get academic recognition for all their hard work. All credits can be directly counted towards the Oxford Brookes University MSc in Health Sciences or transferred to Masters-level qualifications at other institutions.

Read our interview with Helen to get valuable insights in to the module and find out about her career as an endocrine nurse.

What inspired you to choose endocrinology as a career?

Before I started working in endocrinology I was living abroad. When my family and I decided to move to the UK, I saw a position advertised to work in endocrinology. After I started researching the area, I was inspired to apply. Endocrinology appealed to me as the discipline is so vast and mixes both acute medicine and chronic disease management.

Tell us a little about your current position and what you enjoy most about your work

I work in a large endocrine team at a busy tertiary referral centre at Oxford University Hospitals, and see patients with many diverse endocrine disorders. Endocrinology is a rewarding area to work and study within as the discipline is constantly changing. There are many opportunities to learn and to apply your learning in practice. I particularly enjoy developing innovative solutions to improve quality of care and nursing practice. As an endocrine nurse, I also feel very privileged to be able to support our patients holistically through the various stages of their diagnosis and treatment.

Tell us about your main research interest

I take a special interest in the areas of male fertility, adrenal insufficiency, gender dysphoria and support the treatment and diagnosis of patients with Cushing’s syndrome. During my Masters-level Module in Endocrine Nursing, I specifically looked at the management of adrenal insufficiency, prevention strategies, and innovation in endocrine nursing care. I was interested in this area of endocrinology because I was inspired by a complex patient who came to us with a medical alert dog, who alerts the patient when their cortisol levels drop. In 2019, I presented a poster at the Society’s Annual BES Conference on this subject and was privileged to be the recipient of the Annette Louis Award. You can read more about this in The Endocrinologist.

Why did you decide to apply for the Oxford Brookes module?

I applied for the Oxford Brookes module as I wanted to build on my experience, knowledge, and skills in endocrine nursing, while advancing my understanding of the health needs that directly relate to our patients. I hoped that it would develop my confidence in undertaking research, enhance my critical enquiry skills and improve my evidence-based practice.  All these expectations were met and more!

What is your advice for anyone considering doing the Oxford Brookes module?

This is an excellent course and will really help to give you more expertise in your chosen area and develop your profession. I would advise those considering the module to plan well and to take a responsible approach to their own learning.

What were the challenges of the module and how were you supported?

My biggest challenges were that it had been quite a few years since I had done academic work and I also had two primary aged children. The university provided me with support to get back into writing academically and I reduced my hours to enable me to have a better work life balance. My mentor was also amazing. She supported and encouraged me to manage my own learning to develop my skills and maximise my potential.

What are the biggest challenges in your field?

I think some of the biggest challenges are working within the constraints of the NHS, as well as the effects of the pandemic on health care. Challenges always provide opportunity however, and it is with this mind set I move forward.

What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

Endocrine nursing is a continually evolving specialty and is now becoming academically accredited. The competency framework benchmarks endocrine nursing with continual scope for development and innovation. I am really excited for the future and the part I will play.

Embracing the diversity of endocrinology: an interview with Dr Julia Prague

Dr Julia Prague is a clinical consultant and clinical academic at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust and University of Exeter. In our interview, she tells us about her clinical practice and research projects, as well as how she thinks endocrine practice will evolve after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tell us a bit about your current position and what you enjoy most

As a clinical consultant and clinical academic I split my time almost 50/50 through the week. At the moment, my clinical commitments include outpatient endocrinology, and inpatient endocrinology, diabetes and general medicine. I moved from London to Exeter last year, and one of the big reasons to move was that near 50/50 split between clinical commitments and research. It’s a great balance that gives me time and space, not only to be with the patients, but also to investigate and take forward some of the issues that they bring up in clinic. Forming new collaborations and being in a new unit with new colleagues is pretty exciting too.

Don’t let yourself be put off by the general medicine component or thinking that it’s all diabetic feet!

Research wise, I’m particularly interested in the menopause through a number of different collaborations. I’m working with the respiratory department on a project looking at lung conditions and sex hormones. Investigating the impact of the menopause in diabetes. I’m also still involved in establishing the role of neurokinin 3 receptor (NK3R) antagonists to treat hot flushes and improve sleep during the menopause.

What got you interested in research on menopause?

Spending hours with the women in our research study of a new treatment for menopausal flushes, and from receiving hundreds of emails from menopausal women wanting to take part. My admiration for them was huge, not least because they so often described themselves as struggling to cope, yet they were the complete opposite of that, meeting endless challenges with amazing fortitude and whilst mostly suffering in silence. To then see them leave misery and suffering behind and find themselves feeling vibrant and human again was rewarding beyond measure. 

Furthermore, the majority of women will have menopausal symptoms that impact on all aspects of their daily life, but many will also have co-existing medical conditions before their menopause and these can also be impacted too. Many medical conditions are influenced by the menstrual cycle and that’s an aspect that is under-investigated and I think is really interesting. Inflammatory bowel disease, for example, can fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and Crohn’s disease typically gets better in pregnancy.

Diabetes is also impacted by the menstrual cycle, and it’s the same hormones that are changing during the menopause but this hasn’t been investigated, which is why I’m now interested in this, as this is something patients often report as being a problem for them. I think it’s important to listen to what patients are telling you and then try and investigate why that is, to hopefully find an improved solution for them.

There will be far fewer centres doing more complex endocrinology, and the development of this could be guided by some of what we have learnt regarding remote consultations and remote networking during the pandemic.

How was your work affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

I was a Senior Registrar at King’s College Hospital  at the height of the first wave, so I became involved in  a lot of  the management and service re-design work within the diabetes and endocrinology department, including rota management to facilitate re-deployment to general medicine but whilst maintaining a core specialist service and whilst supporting our junior trainees and particularly our international medical graduates who were isolated from their families, and  ensuring our patients were supported and aware of sick day rules and  had all the medications they needed. Our department was also therefore part of the frontline team. I was the medical registrar on call for the first peak weekend of King’s admissions. Then I got COVID-19 and could not get out of bed/off the sofa for 4 weeks.

I moved to Exeter towards the end of summer 2020 to take up my Consultant job. Since then I have continued to do quite a lot of frontline COVID inpatient medicine. Now we’re involved in recovery and trying to catch up. Many patients couldn’t be seen through the pandemic because resources had to be syphoned off elsewhere.

The Society has become much more inclusive, and far more diverse, with a much broader mix of people, and I think that should really be celebrated and welcomed.

I never imagined I would interview for my consultant job on Zoom! Moving to a new city, a new department, a new consultant role and a new research role during the pandemic was definitely an interesting twist at such a significant stage of my life and career.

What are you proudest of in your career so far?

My work on menopause and NK3R antagonists – being published in The Lancet was a huge honour, and the potential that this work has to relieve suffering of women is incredible. As a doctor, all you want is to relieve suffering in your patients and this has that opportunity. It’s also given me a platform to continue working in that field and to be invited to speak at international conferences, as well as develop new collaborations.  

This drug class are now in phase three studies and it looks like they’re probably going to be marketed from around 2023/2024. This research is still advancing within the pharmaceutical field, butte top-line results coming out continue to show great promise for the therapy. Seeing the NK3R antagonists come to market will be amazing. For me, to have played some part in that will be awesome and to see patients being able to go to clinicians and get that medication prescribed will be great.

There will be far fewer centres doing more complex endocrinology, and the development of this could be guided by some of what we have learnt regarding remote consultations and remote networking during the pandemic.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in endocrinology?

We have to mention COVID recovery, in what was an already overstretched system. However, somewhat linked to that, is the pull of general medicine on our time as endocrinologists. The pandemic has further highlighted this to be an important issue. Hospital inpatient medicine is busy and can’t be cancelled. However, it is essential for recruitment, training, and retention that our specialist time is more protected. The new internal medicine training (IMT) programme will change the number of specialty training years to shorten it, which could have some quite big consequences for the endocrine discipline.  

COVID-19 has brought some positives though; it’s highlighted that we can achieve quite a lot remotely with patients using virtual appointments, and some patients prefer fitting their appointments in to their life rather than having to attend the hospital. How this translates going forward though could involve big changes for the specialty.

The Society has become much more inclusive, and far more diverse, with a much broader mix of people, and I think that should really be celebrated and welcomed.

What do you think will be the major changes in the future of endocrinology?

I think there will continue to be a drive for a smaller number of national centres of excellence in endocrinology. There will be far fewer centres doing more complex endocrinology, and the development of this could be guided by some of what we have learnt regarding remote consultations and remote networking during the pandemic. That will be good for patients overall but the downside could be that there will be a smaller number of centres with specialist services, which means that staff  may have less involvement in specialist endocrinology. A lot of these changes will be driven by the GIRFT recommendations, which will affect how all services are delivered going forward.

What challenges do you see for your research?

Availability of funding will be critical. COVID has had an impact on available funding but so has Brexit, there’s now a lot of European grants that UK researchers will not be eligible for. Universities have less money because they’ve had fewer students and international students may think differently about studying in the UK post-Brexit and post-pandemic. Charities that fund research have also been hit as many of their fundraising activities were suspended during the COVID restrictions. The Government has a significant financial deficit to address. Availability of research funding was already challenging but it’s going to be even more difficult in the years to come. It’s usually funding that restricts research activity rather than a lack of ideas or collaborations.

How would you like to see the Society develop?

My overwhelming memory of attending my first Society meetings in 2006/2007 is of a lot of senior white men wearing tweed jackets! Now every time I come to Society meetings it’s such a stark change from that. Everything that the Society has done, and is doing, to make itself more reflective of everyone within it is really important. Recruiting the next generation is also a huge part of that, and it is great to also see more focus on this now than then too. The Society has become much more inclusive, and far more diverse, with a much broader mix of people, and I think that should really be celebrated and welcomed.

That level of change takes time and effort and over the years I’ve tried to play some part in helping to make the Society a more different place to the one that I initially knew.

As a Leadership and Development Awardee I was really looking forward to SfE BES 2020 as we were going to be paired with award lecturers, and it is also always a great opportunity to catch up with friends, previous colleagues, and previous as well as potential new collaborators. But of course, that didn’t happen. I’ve just been finding my feet as a new consultant and researcher in a new city but being an Awardee has opened up other opportunities. I’ve been involved in discussions with an external organisation exploring new collaborations and identifying our shared goals and objectives that we could achieve together. I’m sure that being an Awardee has helped me be offered these opportunities.

Who have you been most inspired by?

Prof John Wass, obviously, but I have also been very lucky to have amazing clinical and research mentors. From the literal beginning to the end of my clinical training and beyond (now over 15 years!) with Dr Simon Aylwin at King’s and Dr Roderick Clifton-Bligh in Sydney. I also learnt a lot from Prof Waljit Dhillo whilst doing my PhD at Imperial.

Why do you love endocrinology?

The balance of the acute and long-term follow up of patients, and the importance of making the right diagnosis for patients based on their history, examination and targeted investigation. Many patients with endocrine conditions go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for a long time, so when you make the right diagnosis and instigate the right treatment, they feel and do so much better and you often see it unfold in front of you. As endocrinologists we are also part of a much wider multidisciplinary team, which is great.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists? 

I’ve always tried to be involved with the Society in recruiting the next generation. It’s important that they get to see the ‘real’ endocrinology and diabetes because often, those rotation attachments are mostly inpatient general medicine.

My advice would be to try to get to clinic as much as possible because a lot of our patients are outpatients, and also to go and review specialty patients on the wards when they are admitted. Remember also that there’s lots of different sub-specialties within endocrinology (and diabetes) so there is a place for everyone and an opportunity to be involved in the areas that you find most interesting/rewarding.

Don’t let yourself be put off by the general medicine component or thinking that it’s all diabetic feet! I also always recommend going to SfE BES, it’s a really good platform for meeting other clinicians and scientists involved in the field, and hearing about the patients that we look after. Get involved, come along and see what the specialty really has to offer.


The Society for Endocrinology is 75 years old in 2021. As part of our celebrations, we are collecting members’ opinions, with a focus towards the future – after a particularly hard year for us all!

We are keen to reflect the diversity and breadth of our discipline by hearing from members across all backgrounds, career stages, career types and geographical locations, to get a true flavour of the range of views, needs and challenges faced by our Society members.

Would you like to get involved and share your views? Simply complete this short questionnaire or send your comments to media@endocrinology.org.