Why research?

Some of you may have read earlier this week that I participated in my program’s research day this week and that it was a successful endeavor.

I ended up having a conversation with someone there who also went to the same medical school I did, then moved here for residency about research.

Although both schools are small in the grand scheme, the place where we work and learn now is bigger and more “old school” when it comes to perspectives on research.

First of all, research is so important to medicine.  Without research, we would almost never come up with new treatments, we would have little idea what actually works better and we wouldn’t have such a good understanding of illness.  I still think we could do better on some fronts, but without research as a big and important part, we would miss out on so much.

Learning to do research properly, having it incorporated into our residency programs is huge.  The whole culture of research has evolved over the last number of years.  There is much more protection of participants, there are measures in place to ensure appropriate measures.  Back in the day, there were people making up whole trials, whole sets of data made up or altered (refer to the whole immunization and autism garbage).  We protect more against that stuff now.

Research saves and changes lives.

I am a huge believer in enrollment in clinical trials.  I think people who take part in them are not only giving themselves the best chance for excellent treatment and care, but they are helping future generations to come.  Taking part in any project can take a bit more time, but it contributes to so much more than what each individual can gain.  That is an amazing phenomenon.

In our discussion, we talked about how the school we went to before valued research.  We were told we were encouraged to do it.  But, projects available to medical students were few and far between.   Most people were too busy with their clinical work and big trials and projects to come up with database things for med students to do.  And there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure to do that stuff.  If you were super motivated, you could come up with something.

Where we are now, we notice that many students do projects.  Most of them small, chart review type things that get them a presentation at a conference.

We agreed that it was frustrating competing against people in the CaRMS process who had these opportunities.  That had research projects, however small, under their belts.  That as residents it continued to be frustrating because we couldn’t say we had done something like that before.

All residency programs require some research.  Again, we agree it is good to expose us to the value research has in medicine.  That it is important to teach us to appraise research, to experience and understand the process and to have us do a bit ourselves.

We agreed we feel more pressure to do research than some of our friends elsewhere.  Yet, we have less pressure than some others.  Every place is different and we don’t think it is a bad thing.

The thing with research is, although it is super important, it is not the be all end all in medicine.  I think we have a good balance where we are.  We are encouraged to be evidence based, we are to focus more clinically, but we are expected to do something research related.

I question sometimes programs or even just people who focus so much on research, they lose out on other aspects of medicine.  Yes, research got us where we are today, but it is clinical medicine, that art, that really makes a good physician.  And yes research is a part of that art, but it is just a piece.  I don’t think you have to have research to be a good physician.  I also don’t think one has to be a good physician to be a good researcher (some people are just built for labs and numbers).

I wonder sometimes what having a million little chart reviews on topic x or y just to impress a program really gives.  Sure someone learns a bit on one topic, but sometimes I question how much the medical world or the individual gleans from some of the little tiny chart review projects except padding their CV and maybe providing a springboard for more research we all knew needed to be done anyway.

I know people who did a bunch of little projects in med school.  Or one big one on things that they ended up not pursuing as a career.  I think it is cool that they learned so much about a topic and about research.  But, I do know people who did it just because it would look good for applying to residency or because they got paid.  The end does not always justify the means.

Sometimes I think time could be better spent on other things.

I feel like sometimes in the medical world, we put too much emphasis on research.  That we glorify people that do tons of research, especially in an area that we think is important.  That we can sometimes do things more to fill a void on our CV or meet a requirement than to better medicine.

It bothers me.

Again, research is important.  But, I wish we didn’t push so much to judge people based solely on their academic reputation.  I have worked with fabulous physicians who choose not to partake in big projects.  I don’t think that makes them less of a doctor.  Sometimes, it feels as if we are taught physician as scholar must equate researcher on the academic sense.  I will NOT agree with that.  I also do not think a program is better than another based on the volume of research put out.  A school/program is better than the sum of its research.

So yes, I do research.  I do it because my program requires it.  I also do it because I am enjoying the project I am doing and think that it will help me to be a better physician and that it will truly help people.  I am happy to have that sort of opportunity.  I am glad to work in an environment where it is encouraged.

I will do research in the future.  I plan to help med students with research.  But, I don’t want to push projects on someone because I need a minion.  I won’t do projects that I think won’t make a difference.  And it will not ever be a greater priority than my clinical work (unless something crazy changes).

Research is important.  But, it is not the only side of medicine.


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