Research is the Foundation of Better Care

Dean’s Projects provide critical “outside the classroom education

By Farha Akhtar

Dean’s Research Project Student Tracy Leach

Dean’s Research Project Student Tracy Leach

Taking on a Dean’s Project on top of balancing the arduous workload of Medical School is no easy feat. Yet for five medical students who worked under preceptor Dr. Gary Groot, the experience was not just fulfilling, they saw first-hand the vital role research plays when it comes to improving patient care.

For Rachel Thera, a second-year medical student, participating in a Dean’s Project allowed her to engage with and work closely with patients and play a major role in a research project. Her work was recently recognized in a Letter of Excellence from Vice Dean of Research Marek Radomksi for her superior engagement, and for contributing to every part of the research process from shaping the research protocol to preparing a manuscript for publication.

Rachel Thera studied men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Rachel Thera studied men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer.

As part of her qualitative research, Thera interviewed men who were recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Her interviews were highly revealing, exposing some of the often hidden dilemmas patients experience when it comes to making treatment decisions.

“One of the things I find most enjoyable about medicine is interviewing patients and hearing their stories. Through this project I was able to practice and develop my patient interaction skills.”

“While we often listen to patient’s complaints or the history of their illness during our clinical skills course, we do not often get to explore certain aspects in depth. I felt that my project gave me insight into this important area of patient psychology and will help me to be a more considerate and empathetic physician.”

Gaining a deeper, more intimate insight into patient perspectives is just one benefit of participating in a Dean’s Project. Discovering the interplay between research and clinical practice was another.

“As clichéd as it sounds, I think research translates into better patient outcomes,” says Bonnie Liu whose Dean’s Project was a comparison of prostate biopsy rates between urologists and a prostate assessment pathway.

“So much of what is done should be evidence-based medicine.”

“I believe the more clinicians do research, not only are they more likely to know what’s out in the field and include it into their practice, they also contribute to a more convincing body of science to help others to change practice.”

Cheyenne Lawton’s research looked at whether images of suspicious skin lesions obtained through teledermoscopy can be used in place of face-to-face assessments.

For Lawton, the chance to work closely with established physician researchers in a Dean’s Research project was a real highlight.

“This is going to make me more confident in pursuing future projects.”

Dean’s Project Students, Cheyenne Lawton and Bonnie Liu

Dean’s Project Students, Cheyenne Lawton and Bonnie Liu

Showcasing Dean’s Projects locally and globally

Some of the research conducted by Dr. Groot’s students was outstanding enough to garner College, national and even international recognition.

Bonnie Liu’s paper was published in the Canadian Urological Association Journal in 2017.  Third year medical student, Tracy Leach was awarded first place in the quality improvement category in a recent College of Medicine Dean's Project poster competition.

Kelsey Hinther’s research was both published and her poster was awarded Best Poster Presentation at the 5th International Conference on Endocrinology in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2015.

Hinther’s research was a retrospective pre-post study that looked at whether intravenous calcium provided to dialysis patients would shorten the length of their hospital stay.

She says the project gave her a wide range of hands-on skills and training that goes beyond what is taught in the classroom.

“I learned how to review patients’ files through EMR system, how to format an Excel table according to the variables being analyzed, interpret the statistical analysis results and write a research paper.”

Hinther adds, the Dean’s project has inspired her to conduct more scholarly research in the future, especially if it can benefit the field of medicine and society at large.

“Research ensures healthcare professionals can provide the best evidenced-based clinical care, and ultimately enhance the life of patients.”

Quality Improvement at the heart of Dean’s Research Projects

Tracy Leach was part of a project looking at ways to reduce CT imaging requests for low back pain based on Choosing Wisely Canada (CWC) recommendations.

“I appreciated the opportunity to work with the Provincial Appropriateness of Care Team on this project. I believe as future physicians we are trustees of provincial resources and so it was really exciting to be part of a team that believes in creating efficiencies in health.”

“Medicine is evidence-based practice” says Leach, “it is important to have research skills that develop critical thinking because as physicians we will repeatedly need to interpret information in order to provide our patients with the best care.”

Gary Groot