With highly demanding and frequently unpredictable working hours, it takes considerable planning and determination in order for junior doctors to become involved in research. However, contribution to research projects and publications is considered more and more critical as evidence-based medicine continues to accelerate and competition for jobs continues to increase with the rising number of medical school graduates.
Why should junior doctors participate in research?
- To develop a better understanding of the principles of evidence-based medicine ‘in the real world’ and develop skills in critically appraising studies and research methodology.
- To answer any clinical questions you may encounter in your day to day practice.
- Refine skills in manuscript writing and oral presentation and create potential opportunities to present studies at local and international conferences.
- Networking: Research is frequently collaborative and multidisciplinary, and being involved in projects will help junior doctors get to know consultants in the field of career interest and related careers, which is beneficial when job applications come around. It is also great for creating partnerships and relationships with other researchers and clinicians within your hospital or network.
- Highly valued when applying for registrar positions in certain specialties e.g. surgery, where research publication and conference presentation is required to accrue extra marks or points towards your CV.
Challenges of doing research as a junior doctor
No longer do you have the flexibility that you had as a medical student. It takes some forward planning to be able to squeeze in time for research on top of a full-time job as a junior doctor (e.g. using ADOs, study days, annual leave or rostered weeks off after nights, etc.). Working as a junior doctor often involves unpredictable hours dictated by the patient load of the unit or department to which you are attached, and it is important to prioritise your responsibilities to your patients and your clinical team above your responsibilities to your research projects. Additionally, it is advisable for new junior doctors who have just started not to delve too heavily into research projects until you have settled into your new role, and you get enough rest and recreational time to avoid burnout.
Most importantly, do research you are interested or passionate about. Perhaps you have encountered an intriguing trend in clinical practice that differs from evidence-based guidelines, or you want to learn critical skills in research methodology. Research should be done for these reasons, and not just to fulfil a ‘tick box’ in the lead up to interviews and job applications only. Remember, patients enrol into studies with the belief that it will benefit others, and this is the basis ethics approval is frequently granted for studies that involve patients’ time, personal details and blood/tissue samples.
How to engage in research projects as a junior doctor
- Find out about current projects being done in the department and see if they need a helping hand e.g. with data collection or write-up of already collected data from an existing database.
- Talk to your term supervisor, the research director of the department you are working in, and ask if there are any projects that need some assistance.
- Not all research involves double-blinded multi-centre randomised control trials (few junior doctors will have the time or opportunity to get involved in these!). Consider joining a committee or working party in your hospital and offer to conduct a survey or audit/quality assurance project to help define the significance of a clinical problem or evaluate a new policy being implemented in the hospital. These studies can frequently lead to presentation at local meetings and give you critical skills in data collection and analysis.
- Interesting clinical cases – offer to help write up interesting clinical cases as a case report or present such a case at grand rounds. These may ultimately turn into a research question that develops into a project for further investigations.
- Consider higher degree education to gain further research skills and training in current research methodologies e.g. Master of Medicine (Clinical Epidemiology), Master in Public Health which can be completed largely online and can be undertaken alongside full-time clinical work.
- Consider becoming an affiliate with a University by doing either research or teaching. This affiliation gives you access to journal articles and software e.g. SPSS and other statistical packages for free which further helps with your research endeavours.