FRIDAY RESEARCH SEMINAR (FRS)
The next generation of doctors will practice medicine in an era of evidence-based medicine, attended by an exponential increase in basic, translational, clinical and health-service-related research. By the start of their residency, today’s medical school graduates must have the ability to understand and apply medical research literature to patient care. Knowledge of the advances in clinical research designs, methods and analytic approaches will empower them to critically evaluate research publications and set a good foundation for participation in research throughout their careers.
Medical students at the Duke-National University of Singapore (Duke-NUS) Medical School participate in a compulsory clinical, health service or translational science research component during their third year. The goal is to provide in-depth exposure to research via a mentored experience that enables students to understand the research process—including developing an idea into a proposal, executing the proposal, and analyzing and interpreting the results to answer important questions. By direct participation, students learn the strengths and limitations of research studies and the factors that affect study validity and generalizability. Thus they become well-informed users of and potential contributors to the evolving body of knowledge. The role of the Centre for Quantitative Medicine (CQM) focuses on quantitative support for third-year students who choose to conduct clinical or health service research at Duke-NUS.
The program goals are for the student to:
- Develop an understanding and appreciation of basic clinical research principles, procedures, practices and methodologies, particularly as they apply to study design selection and the development of study aims and hypotheses
- Develop a conceptual foundation for understanding the quantitative aspects of clinical research, including commonly applied statistical tests and analysis methods, sample size and power, use of statistical software and presentation of research findings
- Engage in a research project with mentored guidance from clinical and quantitative experts
Students conduct their research under the supervision of a clinical mentor, a physician faculty member who is a specialist in a particular area approved by the third-year Research Curriculum Review Committee. Students are also assigned a quantitative mentor—faculty or staff with a PhD or MS Degree in statistics or epidemiology who provide expertise in study design, measurement and analysis. The aim is to assist while empowering the student with the quantitative knowledge and skills required for clinical research. This close individual mentoring gives students the opportunity for frequent and intensive one-on-one consultation throughout the third year. Quantitative mentors continually review progress on the assigned projects and provide help in overcoming obstacles—help that might otherwise be unavailable. Typically the quantitative and clinical mentors meet from time to time with the student.
Program orientation is conducted at the beginning of the academic year. Students are given an overview of the third-year research experience and are advised on expectations, common pitfalls and deliverables. Guidance is given for converting ideas into specific primary and secondary study aims and formulating hypotheses.
An online Research Methods and Analysis (RMA) provides essential quantitative competencies that complement the student’s third-year research. The course emphasizes understanding research study designs and analytic approaches and provides a foundational review of concepts and terminology. The approach is based on understanding the principles of biostatistics and clinical epidemiology as opposed to formulas and mathematics. The goal is for students to develop sufficient understanding of statistical concepts and methods to enable them to read, evaluate, and interpret statistical analyses in the literature with a discerning eye, and to apply principles of evidence-based medicine as practicing physicians. Weekly chapter readings are assigned from texts and complemented with online multiple-choice questions for student self-assessment. Voice annotated presentations (VAPs) developed by faculty and clinicians are also available which elucidate the reading material in greater depth. Quantitative faculty and staff are available to students throughout the academic year on an individual basis. Midterm and final exams that cover the assigned readings are taken online.
The program includes a series of weekly interactive sessions facilitated by faculty clinicians and biostatisticians. Students are assigned to groups of 8 to 10 facilitated by at least one clinician faculty member and one quantitative expert to ensuring both clinical and quantitative guidance. Groups meet weekly during which two projects are presented and critiqued. The format consists of two student presentations, each followed by an interactive discussion among presenters, classmate peers and faculty facilitators. Students are exposed to a broad perspective of research types, study designs, common research problems and pitfalls that they may personally encounter.
Each student is required to submit a thesis at end of the academic year. The thesis is graded separately on a quantitative and clinical basis of the write-up elements, viz., background, methods, analysis and discussion, but not on the significance of outcomes. Theses are graded fail, pass or honours.