Getting involved in Research and Auditing as a First Year


This is the fifth article in our ongoing Freshers series. Check back next week for the final instalment.


Quality Improvement: Research and Audit?

One of the core components of a career in medicine is quality improvement. This encompasses striving to achieve better understanding of disease and how to beat it, and developing and maintaining high standards of medical practice. Research studies and and audits are the two elements that make up quality improvement which are performed by many health care professionals. The key difference between research and audit is that research involves the improvement or development of new gold standards of medical practice, whereas auditing involves the regulation and maintenance of medical practice up to current gold standards. These can be subdivided further, for example, research either pre-clinical (in vivo and in vitro studies to provide insights into the mechanisms of a particular disease) or clinical (randomized control trials and observational studies to determine the effects of a particular drug in treating such a disease).

Why should I get involved in Research and Audit?

There are many advantages to being involved in researching and auditing projects:

* These projects can boost your CV; being involved in these projects alongside medical training not only shows strong time management and organisation, but also shows an understanding and dedication to the importance of quality improvement in medicine. Moreover, with hard work and lots of commitment, projects such as these can lead to great output. Two examples of such output include presentation at conferences and publication in journals.

* Projects of this nature, though extra-curricular commitments now, will make up mandatory requirements of our practice in the future, and are essential training components of the years after medical school. Getting experience early ingrains the process of taking projects through from start to finish, and aspects that are often overlooked when planning a project such as the rigor of ethical approval.

* Getting immersed in a project can facilitate deeper understanding of a particular topic. When conducting research and audit there are often problems or questions that are encountered that need solving prior to the continuation of the project. Through referring back to the relevant literature, you can both solve these problems to continue their project and also further your understanding in a field beyond, for example, what the UK medical school curriculum provides.

How can I get involved in Projects?

There are a number of ways you as a first year medical student can get involved with research or audit:

Contacting Individuals and Laboratories: Late in medical school and into foundation years, after some experience and when you have forged a network of connections with doctors, researchers and beyond, it is easier to acquire opportunities and establish a project by simply emailing supervisors of interest. However as a first year medical student it can be difficult to get involved with research and auditing in this way. I certainly observed from my first year that younger medical students could be rejected or ignored from such opportunities based on absence of experience. Despite this, another trait I noticed was what I came to refer to as the ‘domino effect’, whereby successfully completing your first research project improves you experience and your credibility for research projects, subsequently leading to more opportunities. Therefore it is evident that, when contacting individuals to undertake work as part of their laboratory or institution, special consideration should be made when contacting supervisors for the first time. Some tricks can be used to make the process easier; for example, it is wise to read some of the latest publications and work of the supervisor you are contacting as it leaves a great impression.

Local and National Collaboratives & Organisations: Often it can be difficult and daunting to undertake projects on your own and some projects may requires interdisciplinary collaboration. Working in a team both brings a range of experiences and opinions to the work, may speed up the entire process of the project, and increases the amount data, which is collected for the project. To this effect, there are many national research and audit groups that you can join, including organisations such as STARSurg, Academic Surgical Collaborative, the United Kingdom Medical Student Association and many more. To find such groups, all that needs to be done is a simple Google search! There may also be local research and audit groups, a good example being the Plastic Surgery group: the Royal Free Research Collaborative, connected to University College London and the Royal Free Hospital. Some of these groups can be easy to join – STARSurg is starting their 3rd national project: Outcomes after Kidney injury in Surgery (OAKS) soon, and registration for participation is now open.

Summer Undergraduate Research Programmes (SURPs): Balancing the work-life balance in medical school can be challenging, and undertaking research and audit during term time may not always be feasible. However, there is a range of institutions around the world that offer studentships and scholarships for undergraduate students during the summer period. Many of these programmes are tailored to undergraduate students doing subjects under the Life Sciences, and so tend to be more focused on pre-clinical research and laboratory work. Such programmes include the Amgen Scholars Programme, Zurich Biology Undergraduate Summer School, Harvard Stem Cell Institute Summer Programme and many more. Again, Google is your best friend here. Some big assets to these programmes include student stipends, journal clubs and seminars by world-class researchers, and going abroad to experience a new culture and meet an international cohort of students. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these programmes can be extremely competitive and there may be up to 1000 applications for only 20 places per programme. There are also some local SURPs, including the CHRAT Studentship by University College London’s Institute of Child Health, and programmes which require you to find your own supervisor and which fund you to undertake research, including programmes run by The Biochemical Society, The Genetics Society and so on.

By Daniyal Jalil Jafree

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