Investigating the impact of a research-based integrated curriculum on self-perceived research experiences of medical students in community placements: a pre- and post-test analysis of three student cohorts
Background: To build research capacity among graduating medical students, the teaching of research and critical analysis was integrated into the University of Wollongong (UoW) new, graduate-entry medical curriculum. This study examined whether the self-perceived research experiences of medical students, and consequent research capability, were influenced by exposure to this innovative research and critical analysis curriculum, which incorporated a 12-month community-based research project, and associated assessment tasks. Methods: The first three medical students cohorts (N = 221) completed a self-assessment of their research experiences in ten areas of research activity. Their responses were collected: before and after they undertook an individual community-based research project within a 12-month regional/rural clinical placement. The research areas investigated by the self-assessment tool were: (i) defining a research question/idea; (ii) writing a research protocol; (iii) finding relevant literature; (iv) critically reviewing the literature; (v) using quantitative research methods; (vi) using qualitative research methods; (vii) analysing and interpreting results; (viii) writing and presenting a research report; (ix) publishing results; and (x) applying for research funding. Results: Participation rates of 94% (207/221) pre-placement and 99% (219/221) post-placement were achieved from the three student cohorts. Following the successful completion of the research projects and their assessment tasks, the median responses were significantly higher (p < 0.05) in nine of the ten research areas. The only area of research for which there was no increase recorded for any one of the three cohorts, or overall, was (x) applying for research funding. This activity was not a component of the UoW research and critical analysis curriculum and the item was included as a test of internal validity. Significant gains were also seen between cohorts in some key research areas. Conclusions: Improved research capability among medical students was evidenced by increased scores in various areas of research experience in the context of successful completion of relevant assessment tasks. The results suggest that research capability of medical students can be positively influenced by the provision of a research-based integrated medical curriculum and further consolidated by authentic learning experiences, gained through conducting ‘hands-on’ research projects, under the supervision and mentoring of research-qualified academics.