Opportunities as a clinical student

As a clinical student you are exposed to a wealth of opportunities to partake in research relevant to clinical specialities. These could be encountered in the course of your clinical placements, during an SSC project/elective or you may choose to seek out experiences in areas you are particularly interested in.

Student Selected components

The student selected component (SSC) of the curriculum is a rare opportunity to have time totally dedicated to performing a research project. The main SSC block is in Year 4 and is 6 weeks long. In Year 5 there may be opportunities to get involved with research during your Student Selected Placements (SSPs). Many people will continue working on the projects they started in Year 4 during their spare time, or working with the same supervisor on further projects, and so you should not consider your SSC experience as limited to these blocks!

A range of types of project are available as SSCs:

  • Clinical audits/ surveys/ service evaluation projects
  • Dry and wet laboratory projects
  • Medical education projects
  • Management and leadership projects

The Clinical School will provide a list of supervisors who are offering SSC Projects. It is also possible to approach Supervisors in specific areas not listed. You will need to meet with potential supervisors and discuss the project they are offering. Here are some points to consider when choosing who to approach:

  • What are you most interested by?
  • What do you feel like you would enjoy doing?
  • How may this choice contribute to your experience at medical school and your career beyond?
  • What do other students who have been involved with particular supervisors or departments in the past say about their experience?

It’s advisable to meet with individual supervisors to discuss projects in more detail before committing to anything. Here are some considerations to make before committing:

  • Are you going to be able to meet the Clinical School’s expected outcomes for the project?
  • Is the project realistically achievable in around 6 weeks? Will the project be ready to start when you are on your SSC block?  How much work might you be prepared to do before or after your SSC?
  • What is your role in this project? Will you be working with other students or building on the work of other students?
  • Which skills and outcomes are you likely to get out of the project? Be open with the supervisor about your ambitions, but realistic about what is achievable.
  • How much time will the supervisor have to help you and support you? Who else will be able to help?
  • What clinical experiences might you be able have alongside the project?

Once you have had a discussion with a few supervisors, consider your options before making any commitments. You should let potential supervisors know out of courtesy if you have decided not to take their project.

Key practical tips for making the most of your SSC as a research experience:

  • Before:
    • Get IT accounts sorted, get access to departmental databases and IT systems that predate e-Hospital. – speak to your supervisor!
    • Get an encrypted memory stick before your SSC from the clinical school
    • Organise to meet your supervisor on the first day (or even before)
    • Find out what reading might be helpful
    • Have a backup plan if your project is uncertain or particularly ambitious
    • Check with your supervisor if ethical approval or training is necessary
  • During:
    • Organise regular brief progress meetings with your supervisor
    • Ask for feedback on your work as you go along to stop yourself going off in the wrong direction
    • Persevere! Many people feel like they are not achieving much initially – talk to your supervisor if you have any concerns
    • You may need to engage your backup plan if things do not work out
  • After
    • Follow up any uncompleted work
    • Be persistent in asking your supervisor about completing your work or submitting it for conference/publication
    • Keep offering up help to complete the work or partake in other projects if you have found it helpful

Elective

In a busy clinical student course, your elective can be an opportunity for another 7+ weeks of protected research time. Use the collections of previous years’ elective reports on MedEd to see what is possible, and to provide some useful possible contacts!

You should remember that arranging an overseas project takes a little more planning.  There are several potential barriers, including ethical approval, duration of the project and follow up of the research once you have left. Get in touch with students who have been before or ask supervisors you have worked with before for contacts at your intended destination. Starting early is highly recommended (up to 18 months in advance for competitive placements) but many placements are also organised up to the last minute.  Whilst most people do go abroad, if you want to do a research-focussed elective, think about places in the UK too. The UK has many teaching hospitals with a research focus, which may be an option to pursue if you have a specific research group or specialist area of interest in mind. It will probably be cheaper and may be easier to do follow-up work for following your elective. For example, students have done placements in Great Ormond Street Hospital to gain exposure to specialist paediatrics. Elective placements often have an element of uncertainty – so do have a plan B in mind. With a little luck, enthusiasm and perseverance you should have a rewarding experience when electives come!

A bit on the side…

Remember, you do not have to be limited to the SSC/elective timeframe. Many students continue to work on extensions of their SSC projects. You may participate in a longitudinal project, doing a little in your spare time each week, such as the student-led collaborations such as STARSurg. Opportunities will also inadvertently crop up in hospital and general practice – just ask the consultants if you are interested in their research.

These self-organised projects can be some of the most rewarding and with perseverance may lead to conference presentations or even publications! The key to these is to grab opportunities when they emerge and show interest and engagement. However, you should consider how you will manage a project on top of your clinical placements. Passing your attendances, competencies and exams take priority, of course!