Does involvement in community-based projects improve medical students' research capability?
Background: Medical students at the University of Wollongong undertake a community-based research project during their year-long rural/regional clinical placement. This allows students to put into practice their prior learning in critical analysis of relevant literature while introducing broad principles of research methods and interpretation. We evaluated the research capability of students before and after conducting their research project. Summary of work: Students were guided to design projects relevant to their own and community interests. Research capability across two cohorts, encompassing 150 projects, was determined with respect to: writing a research protocol, use and interpretation of the literature; research methods; and results, using the “Research spider” selfassessment tool (Smith et al, Primary Health Care Res Devel; 2002; 3:139–140). Summary of results: Students improved in nine of ten aspects of research assessed in the research spider. These included: defining a research question: presenting; and writing a report. Capacity to apply for research funding did not improve. Conclusions: The research projects engaged the students, stimulated them to think about research issues in rural and regional Australia, and measurably improved their research capability. Take-home messages: Practical involvement in a research project develops authentic learning and improves the research capability of future medical practitioners.