Let’s get one thing right! Medical research is not only about spending hours slaving away as a grunt worker in a lab. It’s a lot beyond the image of pipettes and test tubes. Medical advances cannot happen without research, and research is essentially how we produce knowledge in general, not just in medicine.
Research is directly connected with critical and independent thinking, creativity and most importantly, discovery. Essentially, all knowledge in every academic discipline came from some sort of research.
As India moves towards better possibilities and advancements, the need for better research facilities for the youth has never been this high. This is also because our country, once a rich and spoiled child, is now a confident and growing young adult.
We are being recognized as one of the contenders for introducing research breakthroughs in recent times as we move ahead to build our identity in the field of science. With such exceeding expectations, what matters is how early do students get the opportunity to explore their desire for research. How much scope are undergraduates provided in the field of medical research in India?
Identifying the Benefits of Undergraduate Medical Research
Research projects can help the students to develop critical analysis, thinking and also enhances their skills in searching literature and independent writing. Students should recognize the role of medical research in their practice. As you engage more deeply in your research, you will soon realize what interests you and what you could do without. Research has helped many people confirm the desire to go into medicine.
As an undergraduate researcher, you will almost always work with a mentor and possibly with a team. It is important because your mentor can serve as a guide in many different aspects outside of research as well. Furthermore, working with a research team refines your skill set and prepares you for a lifetime of teamwork in the field of medicine.
The Ground Reality
Relevant health research has contributed to the increase in life expectancy in India over past 60 years and is essential to investigate health problems and implement solutions. Recognizing the importance of research, few medical colleges in developed countries have initiated student research programs.
In India, undergraduate medical research is far from satisfactory and is worsened with the mushrooming of a large number of ill-equipped medical colleges. This fact is proved by a study, which reports that the 70% of medical students expressed the unawareness about research. In our country, medical education has remained more or less static, and research is in a very poor state. Against this backdrop, the idea of promoting research culture at the undergraduate level may look very unrealistic.
Research Training Programs
- Students seeking admission to medical colleges are extraordinarily bright. A fair number of them have also shown research aptitude. This was evident from the popularity of the Short Term Studentship (STS) program of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The program enables recipients to undertake research for two months, and the students receive a token amount and a certificate on submission of a project report.
- Short duration training programs in research methodologies are in vogue in a few medical colleges. One of the best is run by GS Medical College, Mumbai by the Department of Clinical Pharmacology. It is a popular ten-week weekend certificate course in clinical research. The Academy itself conducts a highly-rated, hands-on two-week training course on laboratory medicine that includes commonly-used techniques in cellular and molecular medicine for doctors.
- Considering the ground realities, the best approach would be to develop in-study research training programs. This is taken care of in the “Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana” (KVPY) program, which was started during 1999 by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India to encourage students of Basic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to take up research careers in these areas. The aim of the program is to identify and encourage talented students with an aptitude for research.
The Future of Undergraduate Medical Research
The concept of research at the level of undergraduate medical students has a bright future. But it would need a tremendous commitment from the faculty. Medicine continues to attract some of the best talents in India. Some 75,000 applicants appear for the competitive examination for 33 General Category open seats at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, giving every aspirant a 1:2200 chance.
A majority of students are examination-oriented and are quite contented to follow the prescribed syllabi. However, 10-15% students are knowledge hungry, and a very small percentage (1-2%) is also interested in research. These students are crucial for the generation of new knowledge. Routine teaching is not very exciting for them. They need to be nurtured through special supplementary educational programs.
Though there are few student research programs in India, awareness of them is required. Students should recognize the role of medical research in their practice. It is important to provide financial security to students who plan to pursue the field of research. Motivating students towards research by allotting funding for undergraduate student research can prove helpful as more and more students will be encouraged to venture into this.
Medical research is not limited to just medical colleges. IISc is one of the hubs of research in India. Read about it here.