We are All Scientists: The Importance of Being Researchers and Physicians

By Paul J. Kim, DPM, FACFAS

Every medical student is training to think like a scientist. A scientist formulates a hypothesis, tests the hypothesis, and formulates a reasonable conclusion based on the gathered evidence. In a similar way, a clinician in daily practice sifts through, and makes sense of, information provided through the patient interview, physical exam and laboratory tests in order to formulate a diagnosis and devise a treatment plan. Without the ability to critically evaluate information, we endanger the health and well-being of our patients.

Value of Research
Conducting research is an important component for the development of scientific thinking. Research adds to the body of knowledge and propels our medical specialty forward. The process also allows the clinician to better understand the nuances of published research and more readily discern the strengths and weaknesses of journal articles.

A busy practitioner may foresee considerable barriers to conducting research, the most significant being the lack of knowledge on how to begin. Here is a suggested blueprint: 

  1. Develop a research question. It may be something you have wondered about during one of your patient encounters. Even if it’s a simple question, don’t assume the research has been done.
  2. Conduct a thorough search of the published medical literature. A good resource is pubmed.org, which is a searchable engine of key terms for published medical studies. Even if there already has been research into your topic, there is value in conducting additional research.
  3. Carefully plan the methodology to test your research question. This is the most important component of conducting research. Without sound methodology, the results may not be accurate and the conclusions unsubstantiated.
  4. After data is collected, the results must be statistically tested. This is a good time to seek help from a biostatistician.
  5. Conclusions are drawn from the results and all of the components above are then synthesized and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Dissemination of the research findings through the medical literature is critical. In this way, the results will not only influence how you approach your patients, but how your colleagues approach theirs as well.

The practitioner in a nonacademic setting faces substantial challenges to conducting research, including time, money and personnel. However, these barriers can be overcome with enthusiasm and a fundamental understanding of the research process.