A Medical Science Educator Article Review From Dr. Inaya Hajj Hussein

This month the IAMSE publications committee review is taken from the article titled “Scoping Review: Research Training During Medical School” 2022 by Heather Murray, Jennifer Peyandak and Melanie Walker.

The article will be of interest to all medical educators involved in curricular design and implementation, seeking to find the best approach to promote research training in undergraduate medical curriculum. It is a real challenge, within the confines of the actual duration of undergraduate medical curriculum, to develop and appropriately deliver an optimally designed research training program with valued outcomes and ultimate aim of producing physicians well-trained to conduct research.

The scoping review questions: What is known about the existing undergraduate curricula structures for “research training” and the best practices that would provide training in clinical research. Database and hand search returned a total of 207 articles that were screened and assessed for eligibility. Ultimately 60 studies were included in the scoping review emanating from 5 continents and published between 1999 and 2022.

The thematic analysis extracted for research training was performed according to 5 themes: (1) variability in curriculum structures; (2) influence of mentorship on students’ experiences and career direction; (3) program length and its association with increased students’ academic output; (4) students’ assessment was primarily accomplished through assignment or presentations; and (5) program evaluation data were scarce and of poor quality.

Thirty-five institutions (58.7%) had embedded research programs, 8 (13.3%) had a dedicated year of research, 6 (10%) offered a research program in the pre-clinical years, 4 (6.7%) during the clinical years, 4 (6.7%) during summer and 1 (1.7%) pre-graduation and 2 (3.4%) unclear. The choice of enrolment also varied among programs by being mandatory in 30 (50%), optional in 15 (25%), mandatory with an optional extension in 6 (10%), and 9 (14.8 %) by application only with limited enrollment.
The total amount of time reported in research training varied across programs. Longitudinal courses expected students to spend at least 4+ hours per week or at least 120-160 hours on their projects. Full-time courses required students to conduct and complete original research within 12 months.  Short courses required students to work in group research projects fully designed by faculty. Some schools have a baseline research competency requirement that all students must meet prior to graduation and others allow students to expand their research and earn MS or PhD degrees.

Most papers 51 (85%) reported some form of faculty mentorship incorporated either as individualized (39%) or in small groups of <15 students (8%). Only one program incorporated “near peer” mentors. The data revealed the beneficial value of successful mentoring by qualified and motivated faculty; it influenced students’ scholarly success, career selection, and direction.
Some papers reported that students who participated in long-term research programs were more likely to publish or attend conferences. Other papers reported that incorporating mandatory assignments into research training or implementing research days was instrumental to promote competence through the students’ academic output. No programs described a formal evaluation process. Overall, students reported high satisfaction with their programs. Faculty had no formal feedback; however, their supervision was considered as an integral part of the research training.

Outcome: The authors have satisfactorily identified the benefits of such programs extending beyond research skills. There are not enough data available to support the adoption of any particular research training program. The structure and the optimal research training durations remain unclear; however, longer durations were associated with more academic productivity and motivation toward a physician-scientist career.

Inaya Hajj Hussein, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Foundational Medical Studies, OUWB School of Medicine