Objectives To achieve a deep knowledge and a positive attitude towards research methodology, reporting standards and research integrity, in a group of seven medical students attending a state university in Chile. The aim of this learning and applied activity was to pick up from the evidence-based medicine course and follow through by engaging the students in complex research projects from inception to publication of results.
Method After finishing the EBM course in medical school, 85 medical students recently introduced to clinical courses in hospital, were offered the opportunity to participate in two research projects. Seven students signed up to become research assistants to the Associate Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine of Universidad de Santiago de Chile (USACH). The professor provided a couple of research ideas – one on reporting guidelines and clinical trials, and one on research integrity and publication ethics. During the latter half of the academic year, weekly three-hour sessions were scheduled to plan, conduct and report the results of the research projects. Follow-up of assigned tasks and responsibilities was carried out through Basecamp, an online project management application. Group discussion was horizontal and conducive towards advancing in the knowledge dimension, but was always guided by the lead professor. Other professors were invited to join the discussion on an ad-hoc basis.
Results The students were initially divided into two groups with lead student investigators per group. All were actively involved from the start in the discussion of the research question and design, study objectives, methods, data extraction, analysis and drafting of protocols and manuscripts. Likewise, they participated in writing and submitting the funding proposals, and they have contributed to drafting the protocol manuscripts. Two of the students gave oral presentations in research student meetings. Discussions are held both in Spanish and English, which is also helping them with their English skills. Manuscripts are drafted, revised and corrected in English. In the knowledge process dimension, the students have been able to successfully acquire and construct factual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge and metacognitive knowledge. In the cognitive process dimension, the students are actively prompted to understand the research process, as well as apply, analyse, evaluate and create during the conduct of both projects.
Conclusions The projects are providing the students with critical appraisal skills, and knowledge about publication ethics and research integrity. We expect that at least four publications in top international journals will result from these projects. While most research conducted by medical students in Latin America is descriptive and usually concerns case reports, our experience shows that medical students are able to raise the bar in the type of research they are engaged in, and make important and intelligent contributions to the process. Academic leadership and mentorship, as well as institutional support, appear to be fundamental for the success of this experience.
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