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Training physicians on how to conduct research after medical school


Paul Khalil, M.D., had had very limited research experience and learned a lot from the intensive course.

Paul Khalil, M.D., had had very limited research experience and learned a lot from the intensive course.

Dr. Paul Khalil was a chemistry major in college. He worked in a lab as an undergraduate and assisted in research studies, but the 29-year-old, now a first-year fellow in pediatric emergency medicine at Miami Children’s Hospital, had never created an independent research project that he cultivated from hypothesis to conclusion.

On the other end of the spectrum is Dr. John Fitzwater, a 34-year-old third-year pediatric surgery fellow at MCH. Fitzwater spent every summer engaged in research studies in Africa, beginning back in his days as a liberal arts undergraduate student and continuing through his residency at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center – Lubbock. In addition to his medical degree from University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Fitzwater also received a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. He has already accepted a position at Texas Tech–Lubbock when his fellowship ends and has negotiated three months of research in Africa every year as part of his contract.

Despite the disparity in research experience between Khalil and Fitzwater, they both participated in an intensive Research Training Program, a joint pilot project created by FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work and MCH Office of Medical Education this summer — and both felt the program will definitely help them with their future research projects.

Pediatric fellows took an intensive one-week course on research taught by Stempel faculty.

Pediatric fellows took an intensive one-week course on research taught by Stempel faculty.

The Research Training Program was developed by Stempel professors Mark Williams, O. Dale Williams, Dr. Wasim Maziak and Dr. Consuelo Beck-Sague, in close consultation with the MCH Director of Medical Education, Dr. Rani S. Gereige.

As an accredited fellowship training program, MCH has always provided research lectures; however, these were spread throughout the year, which meant that some fellows were attending lectures after the majority of their research projects had been designed, Gereige explained. “This year, we decided as a sponsoring institution for nine ACGME-accredited fellowships to provide a more structured intense course that hopefully will be a yearly event early in the academic year,” he said.

O. Dale Williams pointed out that Miami Children’s Hospital plays a critical role in providing clinical care for Miami’s children, but it is also importantly involved in the training of the next generation of pediatric researchers.

“The Research Training Program we conducted directly addressed this responsibility. It was designed to provide residents and fellows with training exercises to help them better utilize the available scientific information in their clinical care decisions and in planning their own research program.”

(From left) Stempel college faculty Mark Williams, Wasim Maziak and O. Dale Williams helped Miami Children's Hospital residents and fellows with their research skills.

(From left) Stempel college faculty Mark Williams, Wasim Maziak and O. Dale Williams helped Miami Children’s Hospital residents and fellows with their research skills.

Drs. Williams, Williams, Maziak, and Beck-Sague led the five-day customized tutorial. The intent of the program was to facilitate fellows’ and residents’ ability to critically review the biomedical literature, participate in clinical research and plan clinical studies. The research tutorial was delivered in five 90-minute sessions throughout one week, introducing the philosophy of science and the basic concepts, methods, and ethical issues in biomedical research.

John Fitzwater, M.D., has a degree in public health but found the course helped revive some of his more rusty knowledge.

John Fitzwater, M.D., has a degree in public health but found the course helped revive some of his more rusty knowledge.

For Fitzwater, the program served as an important refresher to his previous public health studies. “As surgeons, we don’t get to use public health policies every day. This set my boots back on the ground and helped remind me of the work I’ve done.”

He particularly felt he gained a lot from the ethics program. “As physicians, we take it for granted that we are all ethical, but it can sometimes be a slippery slope. It also helped that the instructor was a medical doctor and knew what to ask and how to ask us,” he noted.

Khalil gained knowledge about creating and conducting a research project—as well as some thoughts about studies he might like to conduct during his fellowship. “Giving us this program at the beginning of the year was definitely what we needed,” he said.

Both the Stempel and MCH faculty see this pilot program as continuing and even growing in the future. “We value our collaboration with this group since it provides potential sites for the practical training of our own students,” says O. Dale Williams. And, just as importantly, some of the students who took the program have approached the Stempel faculty about future research projects. “We are already are beginning the process of discussing some new ventures,” Williams said.

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