Letters to the Editor  |   August 2010
Importance of Early Exposure to Clinical Research for Osteopathic Medical Students
Author Affiliations
  • Stephen D. Laird, DO
    Principle investigator of the National Institutes of Health Research Education (R25) Grant used in this project; associate dean for Academic Affairs, Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine-A.T. Still University, Kirksville, Missouri
Article Information
Medical Education
Letters to the Editor   |   August 2010
Importance of Early Exposure to Clinical Research for Osteopathic Medical Students
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, August 2010, Vol. 110, 422-423. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2010.110.8.422
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, August 2010, Vol. 110, 422-423. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2010.110.8.422
To the Editor:  
During the summer of 2009, an opportunity arose for two of us (A.M.P., K.J.W.)—osteopathic medical students at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine-A.T. Still University (KCOM) in Missouri—to participate in a collaborative research project between KCOM and Pennsylvania State University-Hershey College of Medicine. As a result of our lackluster experiences with high school and undergraduate laboratory research, we were both initially somewhat hesitant about the prospect of becoming involved in a clinical research project. Another reason we were tentative about pursuing research was that we both knew we wanted to spend our careers treating patients, and we did not envision much opportunity for patient care within a research-oriented career. 
Despite our misgivings, we decided to accept the challenge to see how much we could learn about true clinical research. The research project was made possible by Grant No. 1 R25 AT003579-01 from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the United States National Institutes of Health. 
The clinical research we encountered in the KCOM-Penn State summer elective was nothing like the type of research with which we were familiar, such as bench work involving measuring of solutions or running of reactions. Rather, we found ourselves in the clinic, following osteopathic physicians and interacting with patients. This clinical research model proved to be an active process in which the osteopathic physicians we observed used a practice-based research network (PBRN) for investigating the efficacy of patient care, including examination of the care of patients with diabetes mellitus. 
Our responsibilities in this research project involved collecting data for a PBRN investigation of the use of various techniques of osteopathic manipulative treatment for different diagnoses and the subsequent extent of patient satisfaction. The mentors with whom we worked had investigative minds and strong passions for teaching, which impressed upon us the importance of current research within the osteopathic medicine paradigm. 
We learned how well-planned research projects could improve clinical practice. One of the most important lessons that we brought away from the experience was learning how osteopathic physicians are able to integrate clinical research and clinical practice in a way that works—there was no conflict between these two aspects of medicine, and neither aspect suffered for the other to thrive. We discovered that research and practice could complement each other incredibly well. 
Through our participation in the process of clinical osteopathic medical research, we came to realize that all the small pieces of medical training, protocol writing, and evidence gathering merge to form one big picture in clinical research. Such research is the keystone that holds the other pieces together and gives them value; it is the summit of evidence-based patient care. 
The opportunity to participate in a clinical research project as first- and second-year osteopathic medical students proved to be a tremendous learning experience on many levels. Our research elective helped us realize more fully the connection between basic science studies and clinical decision making. It also stimulated our interest to pursue additional patient-oriented research training and influenced our consideration of future specialty options. 
We recommend that osteopathic medical students at other institutions pursue similar research experiences early in their education should such opportunities be available. Participation in such a project would widen students' perspectives to the plausibility of improving their future clinical practices by integrating research into their careers. It is essential that osteopathic medical students be encouraged to take advantage of more abundant research opportunities early in their training. 
Reflecting upon our summer research experience, it is evident that this learning opportunity has prepared us as future osteopathic physicians to adopt a more scholarly and scientific approach to solving medical problems—an approach that we will use every day to guide our clinical decision-making processes for our patients.