Thursday, 16 August 2012

Diary of a young doctor(part 6)

(Published in The Friday Times on 17th August, 2012)

Medical Science, like other disciplines of science, is a constantly evolving subject. New discoveries are being made, new ways to treat and look at diseases are being researched and newer drugs are being introduced on a daily basis. But the medical profession in Pakistan is lagging far behind the rest of the word in innovation and research. Very little, if any, research is being done by public sector hospitals and medical colleges. Apart from the Aga Khan University and Shaukat Khanam Hospital, there are no recognizable research centers in the country. Due to this issue, most of the books we consult during MBBS are written by Western or Indian authors.
t may come as a surprise to the reader that doctors in Pakistan are required to do research as part of their curriculum, both at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. The ground realities, though, are very different. Very few of the "researches" done by Pakistani authors are published in international publications. On the undergraduate level, the research is mostly very basic and does not require much critical thinking, nor is it up to an international standard. The Community Medicine departments (responsible for overseeing research) ask students to choose from a particular list of topics on which research can be done. No funding is provided for the purposes of research. Students usually take shortcuts just to fulfill the academic requirement, and the matter is over after the final exams.
n the post-graduate level, where research is an important tool in the rest of the world, Pakistani doctors do not spend enough time on research topics. Most of the topics are re-hashed versions of the same old 'traditional' things. A grand sum of Rs 2,200 can get you a good synopsis on your chosen topic. Plagiarism is not thoroughly checked, so liberties can be taken in that regard. I questioned some of the senior doctors about this trend and they pointed out a few factors responsible for this problem.

he foremost issue is financial. Most post-graduates do not have job security and often have to work at multiple hospitals. In addition, they do not get any kind of funding for the sake of research. In such conditions, all they do is look for shortcuts to fulfill the academic requirement. In Shaukat Khanam Hospital, doctors are paid handsome salaries and have job security, resulting in some serious research work being done there. The proposed Service Structure that was the demand of doctors during their recent strikes is a much-needed step as it would at least provide job security, if not lavish pays.

he second most important reason for lack of research is the absence of critical thinking from our curricula. Research is borne out of questions about persisting problems and requires finding solutions to problems. We, on the other hand, learn and see throughout our academic life that 'he/she who crams the most, achieves the maximum marks'. From nursery school all the way to the final year of MBBS, we learn how to rote-learn particular texts and then regurgitate them in our exams. Questions are discouraged at almost every level and many teachers think it a disgrace if they do not know the answer to a student's question. In addition, there are almost no research societies working in medical colleges. The only one that I encountered was a small society working out of Punjab Medical College, Faisalabad.

he third factor in this regard is the lack of teachers and instructors who can guide students about research. This problem is present both in medical schools and in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the premier body that awards specialization degrees in Pakistan. In many cases, the supervisors for research are not well-versed in the art of evaluating a research paper as it is very different from an examination paper.

espite all these problems and glitches, there are still some success stories. Pakistani doctors, particularly surgeons, have developed many indigenous solutions to the problems they have faced over the years. The need of the hour is to promote critical thinking and research among the medical community so that Pakistani doctors can compete on an even keel with their international colleagues.