The importance of the research experience in undergraduate medical education

The development of strong research skills and the provision of medical care are inextricably linked. That’s why the research experience is stressed during the four years of the undergraduate medical education (UME) program. And it’s why the School has integrated research into the core curriculum, as well as offering several programs for students to become involved throughout their years of study.

“Research makes students better scientists, a core part of being a physician, and better prepares them to lead during residency and in practice,” said Gary Tithecott, associate dean, UME.

Regardless of whether a student plans to become a clinician or follow the path of a clinical scientist, they will be engaged in learning projects to address patient care issues, improve care or to advance an aspect of patient care and how it is delivered in Canada or internationally.

“It’s incumbent upon the UME program to give students the foundational skills and tools, so that they are prepared to meet the immediate needs of their patients, or the future needs of the community,” said Dr. Tithecott.

During their UME, students have an opportunity to engage in research through a number of formal programs funded by the School. These include the Summer Research Opportunities Program, the Summer Research Training Program (SRTP), and the Schulich-UWindsor Opportunities Research Program.

Dani Cadieux, Medicine Class of 2016, has been involved with the SRTP for the past two summers. Her project is medical education-based, with a focus on team communication practices. She has been working with Dr. Mark Goldszmidt, and together they are looking at how junior trainees approach the task of patient follow-up and communication on the internal medicine clinical teaching unit.

The MD/PhD is another program whereby students can pursue their passion for research and combine it with undergraduate medical training. Adrienne Elbert, a Vanier Scholar and multi-award winner, is currently part of the program and has focused her research on the role of epigenetic proteins in embryonic brain development.

There is no shortage of opportunities for students to pursue research, and additional funding and research opportunities are also available directly through departments across the School. Students can also apply for NSERC funding to support projects of interest.

Like many of her peers, Cadieux became involved in research in her first year of medical school and continued on through her second year. While some students continue throughout clerkship, it is more challenging to do so and they often complete their projects during fourth year.

In fourth year, when UME students return to the classroom, they take a course called Integration and Transitions. During the course, students are challenged to ask a question about a patient care topic, they need to show how they would research the issue, and if they were to complete the research, what process they would take.

With the plethora of research projects taking place, the UME program wants to be able to track activity and the impact of the research endeavours. They are now starting to track all projects undertaken at the undergraduate level, even if they are completed during residency.

Unquestionably, the topic of research will be raised during the UME accreditation. “The existence and amount of research activity of our UME students are metrics accreditors will consider and use to compare our School to others,” said Dr. Tithecott.

Most importantly, is the fact that because Schulich Medicine students are exposed to research, they will become more effective, patient-centred physicians once they have graduated.