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Importance of Medical Student Participation in Research for the Future Health Scene of South Asia

Posted by plosmedicine on 30 Mar 2009 at 23:48 GMT

Author: Hassan Khan
Position: Medical Student
Institution: Aga Kahn University
Additional Authors: Muhammad Rizwanulhaq Khwaja
Submitted Date: December 03, 2005
Published Date: December 6, 2005
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

Aslam et al have highlighted the importance of student participation in medical research for the future health situation of developing countries in South Asia [1]. Only 1.2% of the papers listed in the Institute for Scientific Information Database from 1992-2001 originate from South Asia, though the region accounts for about a quarter of the world population [2]. Few opportunities, scarce incentives, poor research mentorship and time constraints are major reasons for the lack of student participation in research.

Sustainable opportunities and incentives can be created for students only in the presence of a good infrastructure, which unfortunately is absent in South Asia [2]. Poor research training of physicians of the earlier generation has led to further problems. In Pakistan, $1.5 million were available to the Pakistan Medical Research Council between 1994 and 2000. However, less than half of the amount was disbursed because of lack of good research proposals [2]. The lack of good mentorship leads to scarce research opportunities for students and inappropriate utilization of time, leading to discontentment.

A study in Maldives noted that 65% of the health staff found research reports difficult to interpret [2]. This has dire implications for the practice of evidence-based medicine and thus health care in general. This would not have been the case if health workers were provided with ample research exposure including critical thinking, planning and writing during their academic development in medical schools.

A possible solution as suggested would be to make research involvement an obligatory part of medical schools'curricula. For instance, during some rotations at Aga Khan University, medical students have to design and implement a research study. In Germany the title of 'Dctor' is granted to medical graduates only after they have authored a research project. However, a recent German study states that the quality of the research projects undertaken by students has fallen as research consumes time needed for medical training, clinics and study [3]. Here, the role of good research mentorship comes into play to ensure originality and quality, yet maintaining interest and satisfaction amongst students. Time constraints and workload make it difficult to pursue research in a typical medical degree program. Introducing dual-degree programs (MD-PhD, MD-MPH) with an extended time frame will allow young investigators to pursue their research interest enthusiastically. This experiment has been very successful in producing competent young researcher physicians in United States since the past thirty years [3].

Clinical research is vital for improvement in health. Developing countries constitute 90% of the world's preventable mortality and receive only 10% of the global health research funding [4]. It is important to address this imbalance by establishing an endogenous research culture relevant to the socio-economic status of the region, to tackle with its unique spectrum of communicable as well as non-communicable diseases. In the long run, this can be achieved by immediate involvement of students in clinical research, which will not only increase the scope of research activity but will also ensure that the future crop of clinicians will be able researchers, paving the way for a brighter and healthier future for all.

1. Aslam F, Shakir M, Qayyum MA (2005). Why Medical Students Are Crucial to the Future of Research in South Asia. PLoS Med 2: e322-23.
2. Sadana R, D???Souza C, Hyder AA, Chowdhury AM (2004). Importance of health research in South Asia. BMJ 328: 826-830.
3. Diez C, Arkenau C, Meyer-Wentrup F (2000) The German medical dissertation-Time to change? Acad Med 75: 861-863.
4. Global Forum for Health Research (2004). The 10/90 report on health research 2003-2004.Geneva: Global Forum for Health Research

Competing interests declared: we declare that we have no competing interest