Research: A curriculum tool for now, a patient care tool later

During a Meet the Faculty session in July, prospective OUM students learned about the University’s research requirement, what goes into deciding upon and completing the project, some recent student  projects, and how research skills help clinicians with patient care.

A key takeaway: Students tend to overthink and complicate the expectations. When you break down the concept and focus on one piece of the project at a time, it becomes manageable, not daunting, according to presenters Randell Brown, PhD, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Director of Research, as well as Daria Camera, PhD, Assistant Director of Research.

Each of them shared interesting perspectives on the concept of research and the tendency students have to unnecessarily agonize about getting started.

“I typically hear some recurring comments from students at the end of their projects,” said Dr. Camera. “One: ‘It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.’ Two: ‘I wish I had started sooner.’ And three: ‘I really enjoyed doing the project,’ adding that, ‘There was always someone there who was able to help me. I never felt stuck or unable to move to the next step.’”

What is research? And how does it impact patient care?

Understanding the research process and being able to pull necessary information from a published article to apply in practice, further emphasizes its importance, according to Dr. Camera.

“As future clinicians, your exposure to research will be ongoing,” she said. “You are going to be reading papers throughout your career, so you need to understand the process and be able to critically analyze results and draw conclusions about whether or not to apply a new drug or new procedure as you treat patients.”

“Research is ‘asking a question.’ That’s really all it is,” said Dr. Brown. “We ask a particular question and try to find the answer. In science we just call it ‘testing the hypothesis,’ which is essentially ‘your best guess’ of what you expect to find out. Your hypothesis needs to be reasonable and testable and we have ways to gather the data that helps answer the question.” He added that all these concepts are learned during the Research Methodology course, along with how we analyze the collected data.

A common question from students is “Why is research important?” Dr. Brown referenced one medical school dean’s answer to that question:

According to Christine Bennett, AO, MBBS, FRACP, Dean, University of Notre Dame School of Medicine, Sydney, Australia:

  • Research experience during medical school is increasingly important for obtaining positions in training programs post-graduation.
  • This can contribute to developing lasting habits of critical thinking.
  • Involvement in research appears to improve clinical practice.

Dr. Brown elaborated on critical thinking, reminding attendees that it was a term they would hear a lot during medical school.

“In essence, critical thinking is problem-solving,” he explained, noting that when a patient comes into the office, physicians need to collect every piece of information they can from the shared list of symptoms. “You really have to take limited amounts of information and extrapolate beyond that. That is critical thinking.”

Samoan research is recommended

Students unsure about a topic are reminded that there are a number of projects available for students to work on during their required clinical rotation in Samoa. While students are discouraged from waiting that long to begin the project – and incoming students no longer may begin clerkships if their research prospectus has not been approved – the recommended process would be to do literature reviews, write the prospectus, present it to Research Club and secure approval so that data collection would be the piece of the project completed in Samoa. Writing the manuscript also may be done once students return home from Samoa, though some students complete more rotations at TTM Hospital than the required four weeks.

“Research in Samoa is encouraged,” said Dr. Brown. “It benefits the student, the University, and Samoa by helping to learn more about the health of the population and adding to the country’s scientific literature.” Those interested in considering a Samoan project to complete their requirement may contact either Dr. Brown or Dr. Camera for the list of ideas.

Coming up with the project idea is a stress point for students, but both Dr. Brown and Dr. Camera were complimentary of the ideas OUM students have developed, largely on their own. During initial meetings, students are asked about their interests, and, if they are healthcare providers, whether they have seen something in practice they may have wondered about.

One student, whose project is referenced below, told Dr. Camera that during visits with his physician mentor, he noticed that a lot of women who don’t have a high body mass index were still presenting with gestational diabetes. He wanted to see how that may correlate with neonatal outcomes. Simple questions like this can lead to very important clinical answers, she added.

And don’t forget the suggested Research Timeline to keep your project time management on track: