So… what exactly is a Systematic Review?

You may have heard of or even read a systematic review however you may not be familiar with the ins and outs of the process. There is a great synopsis published by the ‘What is…?’ series which I recommend for some more details. In short, it is myresponsibility to identify all relevant literature pertaining to a particular research question so that a non-biased assessment can be made. In theory, you can design a research question to answer any question (a personal favourite: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials assessing how effective parachutes are at preventing death!). In my role I most frequently answer clinical questions so would be looking to identify all clinical trials relating to a question. However, other common reviews include identification of evidence related to cost-effectiveness, health related quality of life and epidemiology. A systematic review can be broken down into the following steps: defining the research question and eligibility criteria, identifying the literature, extracting relevant data from studies, analysing data and reporting. On any one day my role will entail conducting one or more of these tasks depending on which stage a project is at. I am also involved in putting together health technology assessment (often referred to as HTA) submissions which go to national bodies such as NICE, the SMC and PBAC.

As a consultant there are two key aspects to my role: accurately conducting a systematic review and keeping clients happy. Although the first is certainly materially more important the second can realistically take more of your time. A statement thatfrequently flies around the office is, ‘this job would be great without the clients!’, and they can certainly be trying individuals. However, if you nail the review, the client will be happy.

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I would normally be working on three to five projects at any one time with my involvement ranging from overall management to helping a colleague out. One thing I love about my job is the diversity; our projects are based entirely on client needs for the product they currently have so I work in a variety of diseases ranging from oncology to diabetes and cardiology to virology. Within a week I could be expected to be an expert in a disease I had previously never heard of. There is certainly no opportunity to get bored!

Still interested/intrigued? In my last post I will give some pointers on the types of skills you will need in this role and practical tips on how to enter the field.

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