Mending broken faces, keeping an eye on violence

August 3, 2007

Name: Jonathan Shepherd

Age: 57

Job: Professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Cardiff University. I have an honorary consultant contract in the Cardiff and Vale National Health Service Trust and I am vice-dean of Cardiff's School of Dentistry. I'm a practitioner academic.

Education and training: I graduated in dental surgery at London University in 1973. After medical and surgical training and researching wound healing for an MSc at Oxford University I undertook specialist surgical training in Leeds and in 1983 became a senior lecturer in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Bristol University. I moved to Cardiff as head of department in 1991. I treat people with facial injuries caused through violence; I currently have a patient who had a metal chair jammed into his eye. My PhD research was in criminology and public health.

My main research interest is violence, and I direct the Violence and Society Research Group at Cardiff, which includes statisticians, clinicians, criminologists and economists. We are interested in the impacts, causes and preventions of community violence and have found that controlling violence is as much about reducing vulnerability as it is about curbing the behaviour of aggressors. Psychological interventions to reduce alcohol misuse in victims is just as likely to decrease levels of violence as using similar interventions with offenders.

Our research proving that toughened glass used in bars and clubs prevents injuries led to the switch to toughened glass in the 1990s. My work is about translating social science and public health research into practice. A recent example is the establishment of the Universities' Police Science Institute.

Working hours and conditions: 60-65 hours a week.

Number of students you teach: We have five years and around 60 dental students in each year. In the research team there are six to ten PhD students and four NHS trainees doing research.

Biggest challenge this year: The implementation of research into practice. It takes an enormous amount of dissemination and campaigning before evidence is turned into changes in practice in public services. The university clinical school model, which integrates research and practice, is not prevalent in other public services. For example, in policing there are military-style training establishments on the one hand and on the other criminologists on campus who are not practitioners, so there is a dissociation between practice and research. The result is that, compared to medicine, practice in the police service is based much less on evidence of effectiveness.

Who are the most difficult people professionally and how do you deal with them? Sometimes it's difficult with practice-orientated NHS colleagues who don't understand what a clinical academic does. There are still a few Lancelot Spratt types in the NHS who find research a bit foreign. The answer is to make sure that the clinical foundations of the job are done really well and that research has a real point to it as regards improving patient care and injury prevention.

Social life: Research is a contact sport so I socialise with my research team.

Office space: I have a super office, with one of my own photographs of an enormous wave coming into Poldhu Cove in Cornwall on the wall.

Interaction with colleagues: The link with criminology has been very important and innovative. I work with economists on alcohol pricing and the risk of violence; I also work with psychologists on how fear of crime is as handicapping as the physical consequences of violence, and with epidemiology and public health colleagues on violence as a public health issue.

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