Research among undergraduate medical students: Barriers and Challenges
By Rudrakshi Shetty, Northern State Medical University, Russia
and Dr. Sadiya Khan, Intern, Bangalore, India.
Engagement in research is vital, especially for clinicians practising evidence based medicine. Unfortunately for medical students, their research journey doesn’t begin until they are residents or consultants. Almost every student wants to get into research but only a select few are actually able to go ahead with it. What factors dictate the fate of research among our medical students?
There are a few obvious reasons like the norm or the attitude towards research among peers. We observe a positive deflection here due to many residency programs considering research as a strong component for one’s selection. While countries such as the USA, Australia and UK put emphasis on research, research still takes a backseat when it comes to residency programs in India and Russia. Research is sometimes even deemed as an extracurricular activity rather than a part of the curriculum. A 2016 study reflected that 57% of the 579 accredited medical colleges in India did not have a single biomedical research paper published in Scopus indexed journals.
Students in India also almost have no formal pathway to become physician scientists unlike the USA that provides dual MD – PhD programs for students interested in research.
The undergraduates in India are barely taught about the various research methodology and biostatistics unlike students in other countries who have a solid foundation that they can build on. Universities in developed countries like Germany provide pre final year students with a dedicated period for research before completing their course. There is also a lack of experienced and competent research mentors for undergraduate students in India. We don’t have enough physician scientists in the faculty who can instil a research culture among the medical students.Developed countries have a concept of peer assisted learning in the curriculum for students to learn from experienced seniors in their initial years. This concept is barely noticed in India.
Even if the students are willing to juggle their studies and clinical postings along with research, it still doesn’t make up for the struggle they’ll have to face when they have to deal with the severe lack of funding. It’s no surprise that it has always been an issue, but the situation at medical UG level is dire. After crossing all the hoops of finding the right mentor, narrowing down on a research topic, maintaining the correct balance between studies and research, this is usually the part where most students get stuck. This indwelling problem despite being so common, has still not lead to any changes in our system. Although the Indian council of medical research has its short term research studentship programme for UG students, only a selected few get to participate in it.
Medical records are a treasure trove for research and serve as a database. Most medical colleges in India have a poorly maintained record section. Medical record systems need to be digitalised all over the country for faster and easier retrieval of data. Despite all the issues discussed, students have still managed to find their way around many of these problems by forming online research clubs with students all over the globe on LinkedIn, offering to be coauthor for already ongoing research, participating in conferences for better exposure, etc. Despite the changing trend, our attention shouldn’t waver from the fact that our system, and to a certain extent, our curriculum as well needs a huge transformation to help train better future physicians.
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