Research Projects in Medical School

As a medical student and all throughout our medical careers there is a strong emphasis on evidence-based practice. It underpins modern medical practice and informs the best approach to patient care and treatments. It is not surprising that medical schools place a strong emphasis on understanding and appreciating evidence-based practice. This is highlighted by population health courses and research projects. At the Australian National University, we undertake a major research project which roughly equates to 12 months. The project runs concurrently to our usual course load.

The aim of the research project is to give an insight into research practice as a clinician. Most doctors we will ultimately be involved with some degree of research, whether it is a clinical audit or supervision of students. We are provided with an opportunity to explore research interests in a diverse range of medical specialities. The type of research is also very flexible, although the choice of my project must be realistic. For example students are discouraged from participating in randomised clinical trials as they could potentially go for greater 12 months and there is a risk of not completing this assessment project within the allocated time. Many students chose to undertake clinical audits of various shapes/forms. Others prefer laboratory-based projects. Some students are undertaking interviews, surveys and even systematic reviews! So the possibilities are endless.

The projects are a fantastic way to develop further practical research skills ranging from data collection to data analysis. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn and apply various statistical methodologies and many students utilise softwares for this purpose. Over the course of my research project, I have become far better at using SPSS and have in fact been able to better support my supervisor with this application. Another fantastic outcome of the research project is the formation of professional relationships with consultants and researchers. It offers numerous opportunities for participating in other research projects. This is becoming more and more important given the increased emphasis on research and publications as part of many speciality training pathways.

However, the process is not perfect. You may find that ethics applications and approval can be protracted or delayed. Supervisors may not always be available to assist or in fact reply to you emails/correspondence (don’t forget supervisors are often consultants with full clinical duties). Access to patient records, pathology/imaging software may be difficult. Moreover, you may find that you will need further training/support during result analysis as many medical schools do not focus extensively on biological statistics. Nevertheless, all these hurdles are opportunities to problem-solve, manage you time better and appreciate the challenges associated with research.

I personally find it really rewarding but also a highly challenging process.  Managing the full course load of medicine in addition to undertaking a research project can be hard. However, with good time management and setting aside a few hours each week you can make stepwise progress. There is so much potential in these research projects to publish, attend conferences or form strong working relationships with national and international leaders. It makes the entire effort even more worthwhile!

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