Post #009: Should medical students be exposed to basic research?

London, July 31, 2017

Yes, medical students should be exposed to basic research [1]. There is little doubt about it. In fact, they should be exposed to basic research at an early stage of their studies, and they should be offered the option and the support [2] to participate in – and even undertake – independent dedicated research projects throughout their studies. However, not all medical students should be allowed to do so.

Medical School graduates are expected to serve as healthcare providers, and this is what is expected of the vast majority of newly-qualified physicians. A small percentage of these graduates will gain doctoral level qualifications (e.g. an MD, a PhD or DPhil, etc.) by conducting research that is closely related to their speciality training, and an even smaller percentage will eventually follow an academic and/or research career pathway. However, very very few of these graduates would have had the opportunity to be exposed to basic research during their undergraduate studies, either because the intensification of the medical curriculum – a pandemic of medical academia in the last decades – would have not allowed it, or because Medical Schools have simply not been willing to practically encourage it [3].

In this post, I will not argue on the reasons we need to actively consider the beneficial effects of this early exposure of physicians to basic research as a curriculum-enriching option, nor I will comment on the value of understanding basic research methodology concepts at an early stage of one’s clinical, research and/or academic career. Both these topics have been thoroughly discussed by other, more accomplished individuals, in ways I can only echo. What I would like to note is my concern over the academic personnel that will actually be called upon to guide medical students through their interactions with basic research; the background, the workload and the willingness of these members of staff to provide mentorship. At the end of the day, it would be pointless to struggle for a reform that would foster a greater implementation of dedicated research within the undergraduate medical curriculum, without previously ensuring the suitability of the academic personnel that will be called upon to support it.

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Notes: [1]: as opposed to clinical research, epidemiological research, or no research at all; [2]: both the financial support and academic incentive; [3]: interestingly, there are cases of Medical Schools that have not even bothered to decide what kind of graduates they want.

Citation: Zarros A. Post #009: Should medical students be exposed to basic research? azarros.info/blog 2017; 31-Jul.