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Research – a vital element during undergraduate medical training

Shannon Baker and Roshan Navaratnam began their summer research work with different intentions and goals. The two undergraduate medical students, however, pursued the experience because they knew just how important it was to their future as physicians. 

“Research plays a significant role in defining clinical protocols and how we as physicians, approach patients,” said Baker. “I believe exposure to research early on allows us to better understand studies and their limitations in the future. Hopefully this understanding can guide us in how to incorporate findings into our day-to-day practice.”

Navaratnam, who is now in his fourth year, agrees with Baker, and adds that research training provides students with an appreciation for evidence-based medicine, in addition to helping clarify career goals and build a network of colleagues.

Hearing this is like music to Dr. Gary Tithecott’s ears. The Associate Dean for the Doctor of Medicine program believes that research is a vital part of a future physician's training.  “If you can’t critically assess literature or explain to a patient what they are experiencing, then you aren’t going to be able to do your job,” he said.

“Research is an accreditation element for undergraduate medical programs for a reason,” Dr. Tithecott added.  “It offers a vital training ground for skill development and helps students develop the skills they need to need to ask questions, analyze data and critically assess information.”

Schulich Medicine & Dentistry puts a strong emphasis on research in undergraduate medical studies. Students have the opportunity to participate in official School summer research programs, including the Summer Research Training Program, the Summer Research Opportunities Program and the Schulich UWindsor Opportunities for Research Excellence Program.

They can also continue work in labs where they were doing research prior to their medical studies or independently reach out to faculty for new opportunities.

One of the central goals of the School’s 10-year strategic plan is to establish a culture of enquiry across all academic missions. And the summer programs fit this strategy well.

“The summer research training programs represent a critical component of our strategic plan to ensure students have the opportunity to gain research experiences,” said David Litchfield, PhD, Vice Dean, Research & Innovation.

According to the students, the word is out about the importance of research.

“The School definitely encourages student to pursue research,” said Baker. “The SRTP and SWORP programs are promoted early on and weekly we receive communications regarding new research developments at the School.”

The demand is high for the coveted summer research training positions. And it’s no wonder, as students are able to develop or enrich their critical thinking and problem solving skills, which are integral to their medical education studies. Some are also able to contribute to papers or research that is of particular interest for the student as an area of specialization.

The UME curriculum enhances these learnings throughout the four years of study with various courses and projects including the Quality Improvement Project and Transitions Course.

With a change coming to the curriculum, students will receive greater opportunities for exposure to research. It is expected that every student will be involved in a research project, working individually or in groups of two or three beginning in their first year of their undergraduate medical studies.

Faculty will work with students to choose research projects that are well aligned to their interests whether it is a basic science, clinical or education research project – the goal is to engage students further. It is expected this change will begin in September 2019.

The Doctor of Medicine program is getting ‘2023 Ready’ as it enriches its curriculum and strives to create a culture of continuous quality improvement bringing all academic standards into compliance for the CACS review.