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Dr Ben Thompson

Ben ThompsonDr Ben Thompson is a rheumatologist at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.

What does your work involve?

I’ve been looking at education for people with ankylosing spondylitis from a few different perspectives. I talked to patients when they were first told about their diagnosis and also when they’d had it for some time. The interviews provided information about two main areas: firstly, what people did to find out about ankylosing spondylitis and how to live with it and, secondly, how rheumatology teams and Arthritis Research UK could improve the information and other resources they provide.

I also surveyed rheumatologists and other healthcare professionals who work with people with ankylosing spondylitis to find out what’s currently available for patients and how they thought it could be developed.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

I’ve been funded for two years through an educational research fellowship. This allowed me to take some time out of my training as a rheumatologist to complete this project, working with a research team at Newcastle University and the Freeman Hospital.

What’s the most important thing you've found out in the past 12 months? Why?

We now understand much more about the questions and problems people with ankylosing spondylitis have, how these change over time and how they differ from person to person. This may seem straightforward, but through detailed analysis we can provide patients with the information they need at the time they need it. We know the common and important questions people have when they’re first diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis and how to recognise those patients who might need more support.

What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?

To improve the experience of people with ankylosing spondylitis who come into contact with rheumatology departments and who seek information from Arthritis Research UK and other sources. From a personal point of view, the funding has given me a tremendous introduction to research and the research team in Newcastle. I hope this will be the start of more projects in the future.

What do you do in a typical day?

It’s changed a bit recently! I’ve just returned to life as a full-time clinical doctor, which means a return to seeing patients with a wide range of problems, busy night shifts on the wards and in A+E, and significantly less time for research. One of the best parts of my job is the variety it offers, but at times it can be hard to strike the right balance between different tasks and priorities.

During the project itself it was equally difficult to describe a typical day, with my time split between activities like interviewing, the analysis of interviews, focus groups and surveys, and continuing my clinical work.

What's your greatest research achievement?

That’s a difficult question. It has been incredibly rewarding to find out more about the thoughts and experiences of people with ankylosing spondylitis, especially those who are less likely to ask for help for themselves. In turn, it can be difficult to condense and summarise these experiences as ‘results’, but it’s equally satisfying when patients and other professionals have told me the results make sense and are useful.

Why did you choose to do this work?

It gave me the chance to follow my interests in education and ankylosing spondylitis. Qualitative research is perhaps less familiar to many doctors. I felt this research project would allow me to develop my own skills and understanding of this method, and those of my colleagues.

Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?

Yes – all the time. One of the great aspects of combining both research and clinical work is that you’re constantly in touch with patients, learning about their problems and thinking about how their care could be improved.

What would you do if you weren’t a clinician/researcher?

My childhood dreams included life as a footballer (my friends will tell you I got nowhere near achieving this) and, slightly less typically, a farmer. More recently, the occasional daydream has taken my wife and I to the Alps, where we'd have a chalet offering a warm fire, good food and fantastic skiing to our guests.

About Ben

At the moment, I think our two boys, aged one and three, are enough to ensure that this section won’t be too long. They’re fantastic and yet utterly exhausting. On occasions I make the trip to watch another dismal display by my football team, Sheffield Wednesday, and I've also been known to take dips in the North Sea which might loosely be described as surfing.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2010, issue 148.

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