Most people associate medicine with white coats, stethoscopes and hospital wards. Whilst clinical medicine certainly is a big part of the subject it is not the only one. Today, alongside their clinical duties, doctors are also expected to engage in teaching or mentoring, and many choose to undertake research of their own.
Research skills are fundamental in medicine. Their utility is not restricted to those who conduct their own research but extends to every practicing doctor. Doctors need to ensure the care they provide is evidence based and constantly evolves in line with new data that emerges. Appraising scientific literature is crucial but is also a learnt skill. Therefore, it is one that we need to start honing whilst in medical school.
To give us our first flavour of medical research, the final term of second year had been allocated to a single module named Clinical Research and Innovation (or CRI). In advance of this, we had been given a diverse range of research experience options which we were asked to rank based on our preference. In brief, the learning objective of CRI was to conduct a piece of research and then create a scientific poster which we would present and be assessed on. We were required to work in groups of 3-5 and had the opportunity to choose our partners- one which I very happily took.
We were lucky to be allotted our first-choice research placement which was under the National Heart and Lung Institute based at the Royal Brompton and involved big data analysis. Essentially, we were given access to a huge medical database which included data on patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and were asked to formulate our own research question and analysis plan. While initially overwhelmed by the volume of data, my group and I had a lot of fun exploring the data and scientific literature to decide on which avenue we wanted to pursue. Due to COVID restrictions, my research experience took place remotely. However, as my project mainly involved grappling with numbers in Excel, I don’t feel this hugely infringed upon my learning. I had never thought that the statistics I had been taught during Maths A-Level would be useful in a medical degree, but I was soon proven wrong. In order to analyse our data we undertook numerous statistical tests and were very lucky to have the support of a medical statistician to help us along the way. While initially feeling we had been thrown in the deep end, my group and I certainly learned a huge amount during our research experience as at every stage we needed to think about the best way to do things ourselves as, because this was novel research, there was no template or formula for us to replicate.
After our initial analysis phase, we then moved onto finding the best way to present our results in tables, graphs or figures. Our group also had a great time producing our poster and spent a shamefully long time deciding on a colour scheme that said, ‘eye-catching yet professional.’ As I mentioned earlier, this whole experience culminated last Thursday with the ‘Festival of Science’ where, as a group, we had to deliver a 9-minute presentation to two examiners and then spent 6 minutes answering questions. Whilst this was essentially an exam, we actually really enjoyed ourselves. It felt so fulfilling to present and discuss many weeks of hard work and we were really proud of what we had achieved by the end of the project.
Imperial has always had a reputation for being a research powerhouse; in fact, it was one of the reasons why I chose to study at Imperial. CRI was an excellent introduction to the world of research in a fun and engaging environment. I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities to build on my research skills during my time at Imperial and I’m definitely looking forward to them!