The present study provides insights into the way in which a medical school in a developing country, is striving to set appropriate conditions for teaching research skills to medical students. In Mexico, scientific research training remains precarious from early schooling to university-level training. Most students conduct little, if any research, a state of affairs that continues in medical schools, where most teachers also lack experience in investigation.30-33
One possible barrier that could slow the development of optimal research conditions in the country may be a negative attitude towards research,34 since some people believing that medical research should be done in laboratories, rather than at health services.27 A previous article16 has argued that the investigation activities of medical students require careful administration.
The first part of the survey assessed the students’ attitude toward research, concerning the extent to which they may fail to carry out research because of their beliefs. The data showed that a majority of students considered it desirable to learn research techniques throughout their medical careers; also, that it was appropriate to carry out these projects in the national medical services. The proportion of Mexican students with a favorable attitude toward medical research is similar to that of students who favor research it in the U.S.,4,35,36 England,37 Germany,4,6 and Spain.10 Nonetheless, the high proportion of students who consider research to be a desirable aspect of medicine may reflect the positive public image of scientific research in Western countries, rather than the personal attitude of the student. By contrast, only 43.9% of undergraduate medical students in Saudi Arabia have a positive attitude towards research.38 Dadipoor et al,3 have shown that 70% of Iranian medical students are unwilling to carry through investigation because of existing barriers and challenges. Interestingly, only 10% of the Mexican students felt that doctors in Mexico should not carry out any research, although another 15% did not have a defined answer to this question.
Only 8% of students thought that their results might be published. In this respect, the results of Latin American medical schools are very different from those of medical schools in developed countries, where a much larger percentage of students publish their investigations.4,8,12,21,37,39 As an example, the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine’s Scholarly Research Program increased student publications from 27.3% in 2006 to 54.5% in 2012.8 In Sweden, approximately one third of the students authored papers.39 In Peru, only 10% of students coauthored published work.11 In all countries are advised to create disclosure mechanisms to release students’ research results.8,11,39
Some issues encountered in this study were: 40% of the surveyed students felt that their research, which was mainly bibliographical, was unimportant for medical science. A quarter that their research had no impact on their course final qualifications; while just a quarter presented their research results at a congress. 40% of students reported that their research results did not contribute to their own medical learning, and 90% did not continue their research at subsequent modular courses.
At the Mexican university assessed in this study, the problematic lack of clinical and experimental research done by medical students may reflect the fact that, from the student’s perspective, just slightly more than half of the professors could be considered as researchers, although the number of professors who published their research was even lower. Most students carried out bibliographic reviews; this pattern was found in other Mexican medical schools.27 Bibliographic research may be an easy way for teachers to comply with university research requirements.
The multistage cluster evaluation provides the perspective of student’s research activities along their studies progression. Their activities tended to decrease as courses progressed (figure 1). At the clinical stages research projects were mainly bibliographical, possibly because the teachers covering various medical specialties had little research training or were not interested in teaching research skills to students. This is a form of negative educational reinforcement that makes possible that investigation deficits pass from one generation to the next. Medical professors should discuss this issue and reach agreements on ways to improve students’ research training.35 A Brazilian group of researchers found that more advanced medical students had little interest in investigation activities,40 this aspect must be explored further in posterior studies.
Limitations of the study: the survey used has not been fully validated yet, although its reliability has been taken care of. In addition, the sampling of the students was not random, so it is possible that the willingness to answer the survey biases the results in some way. Furthermore, it is a cross-sectional study that only reflects the state of the art during the period in which the survey was applied. Despite these drawbacks, given that there are no previous reports evaluating research courses at medical schools in Mexico, the results of this research seem to be a starting point in this aspect of medical training.
The present study confirms that it is not enough for medical schools to support or set standards to encourage research teaching. They must also reinforce the importance of research in the medical profession, and create mechanisms to ensure that all students receive adequate research training as an integral part of their medical studies.