Travelling to Learn: Jessica's Journey

Travelling to Learn: Jessica's Journey

Jessica Smith reflects on her Churchill Fellowship journey, exploring GP support for vulnerable patients. She encourages others to apply, highlighting the supportive process and limitless opportunities.

"For anyone with a project in mind that marries personal interest with the potential for improvement in the UK, I’d encourage you to apply."

The following is an excerpt from a blog by Jessica Smith, sharing her insights from her Churchill Fellowship journey.

The right time for me

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the time when I was drafting my application for funding from the Churchill Fellowship: a fantastic organisation that gives grants to people from the UK to travel overseas and carry out research. The aim is to bring back learning and insight to the UK and is open to any UK citizen: being a researcher, by training or profession, is not a prerequisite.

I had toyed with the idea of applying for some time. I had signed up to the mailing list a few years ago and every year, when the applications opened, I would be reminded of what an amazing opportunity it sounded. But it was only in 2018 when it felt like the right time for me. This was partly for practical reasons: I had been in my job for some time and a request for an extended period of leave – four weeks away from the ‘day job’ – felt reasonable.

But it also felt like the right time for me to revisit research skills that I’d not flexed for a while. Whilst my background is in social research, in recent years I’d moved into a management position: at the time, I led a team of qualitative analysts at the Care Quality Commission (CQC). It had been a while since I had been involved in the nitty-gritty of research, and I missed it. 

Exploring GP support for refugees

I also had a potential topic in mind. Having led qualitative work into the state of the GP sector in England for CQC, I had developed an interest in the role of general practice in meeting the needs of patients whose circumstances might make them vulnerable. I was particularly interested in how GPs can best support refugees and asylum seekers.

Approaching my fourth year at CQC, I was reaching a point where I was considering ‘what next?’ for my career. Having gained knowledge of health and social care services through a regulatory lens, I was growing increasingly interested in health inequalities and the wider influences that affect people’s health.

After a couple of rounds of written applications and an interview, in February 2018 I found out that I had been successful in securing a Fellowship to travel to Sweden, Germany, and Italy to explore how GPs are meeting the health needs of refugees and asylum seekers.

In the months that followed, evenings and weekends were busy spent contacting potential interviewees and planning my research trip. At times it felt like a second job but at every turn the Churchill Fellowship team were on hand to provide advice and support via email and online seminars. I also picked the brains of members of the North West Churchill Fellowship group: a supportive and sociable network of Churchill Fellows, past and present. 

Post-research impact

I undertook my research in September and October 2018 (I blogged about it whilst I was away) and published my findings the following April. To travel, carry out research, and learn from others’ experiences was a fantastic opportunity.

It also prompted me to consider new job opportunities and gave me new focus as to what I wanted to work on next. Through the Fellowship, I’ve had the opportunity, since returning, to share my findings with a range of others, including presenting at at the North American Refugee Health Conference in Toronto and to the European General Practice Research Network who kindly supported me in accessing interviewees.

For anyone with a project in mind that marries personal interest with the potential for improvement here in the UK, I’d encourage you to apply. The process is a supportive one and the opportunities for professional and personal development are limitless.

Applications open in September 2024.

You can read Jessica's full blog here, originally published by the Social Research Association in 2019.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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