Research Article: Student learning outcomes, perceptions and beliefs in the context of strengthening research integration into the first year of medical school

Date Published: November 11, 2017

Publisher: Springer Netherlands

Author(s): Mayke W. C. Vereijken, Roeland M. van der Rijst, Jan H. van Driel, Friedo W. Dekker.


Research integrated into undergraduate education is important in order for medical students to understand and value research for later clinical practice. Therefore, attempts are being made to strengthen the integration of research into teaching from the first year onwards. First-year students may interpret attempts made to strengthen research integration differently than intended by teachers. This might be explained by student beliefs about learning and research as well as student perceptions of the learning environment. In general, student perceptions of the learning environment play a pivotal role in fostering student learning outcomes. This study aims to determine whether a curriculum change intended to promote research integration fosters student learning outcomes and student perceptions of research integrated into teaching. To serve this purpose, three subsequent cohorts of first-year students were compared, one before and two after a curriculum change. Learning outcomes of these students were measured using scores on a national progress test of 921 students and assessments of a sample of 100 research reports of a first-year student research project. 746 Students filled out the Student Perceptions of Research Integration Questionnaire. The findings suggest that learning outcomes of these students, that is, scores on research related test items of the progress test and the quality of research reports, were better than those of students before the curriculum change.

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The promotion of undergraduate students’ understanding of research is an important aim of medical education internationally (AAMC 1998; CanMeds 2015; GMC 2015). It puts emphasis on strengthening the integration of research into teaching in undergraduate medical education, for example, through curriculum interventions to promote students’ understanding of research (Mullan et al. 2014; Pruskil et al. 2009). Medical students find research integrated into their education stimulating for their learning process (Murdoch-Eaton et al. 2010), although students might be less enthusiastic about strengthening research integration by doing their own research projects. Previous studies have emphasized students concerns about research endeavors which could delay completion of their medical education (Funston et al. 2016; Siemens et al. 2010). Medical teachers are therefore challenged to explicate research in all their teaching in order for students to understand and value research for routine clinical practice, not just for physician-scientists (Laidlaw et al. 2012; Ribeiro et al. 2015). The aim of this study is to determine effects of strengthening research integration into teaching on student learning outcomes and student perceptions of research within undergraduate education in large cohorts of students. The term ‘research integration’ is used for all learning activities in which doing research or student engagement inresearch products and processes are an essential part of first-year undergraduate courses in the medical domain (cf. Healey and Jenkins 2009).

Our study was conducted at the a University Medical Center (UMC) in the Netherlands. Staff members at the UMC have responsibilities in patient care, research and teaching. The medical undergraduate program was structured in a two cycle model (Patrício and Harden 2010). A weighted lottery procedure based on students’ grade point average (GPA) in secondary education was used for first-year student admission for all cohorts in this study. Students with a high GPA are more likely to be admitted. Every academic year 330 students, usually 19 years old, start studying medicine in the UMC.

The findings of this study suggest that strengthening research integration had a positive effect on research related first-year student learning outcomes. Particularly on research related items of a national progress test and research reports from a student research project. The results indicate that first-year medical students recognized a stronger emphasis on research within courses after a curriculum change that was intended to promote student engagement in research. The first-year students tended to believe that research is important for their future careers in clinical practice. In sum, the findings suggest that the curriculum seemed to improve students’ perceptions of research integration, yet seemed not to affect their beliefs about the value of research.

This study was conducted to improve our understanding of the relation between student learning outcomes, beliefs about the value of research for student learning and student perceptions of research integrated into courses by investigating first-year student learning in the context of a curriculum change. First-year students performed better on research related learning outcomes in a national progress test as well as in writing research reports in a local student research project. Students in a changed curriculum, intended to strengthen research integration, recognized a stronger emphasis on (1) critical reflection on research, (2) participation in research activities, (3) familiarity with research done by the staff and (4) being motivated for research in medical education. Students tended to have a strong belief in the value of research for their future clinical practice. Implications of this study inform curriculum decisions about integrating research into courses using multi-disciplinary strategies to foster research integration (cf. Harden and Laidlaw 2012). In sum, strengthening research integration in undergraduate courses is feasible in a limited amount of curriculum time, and can lead to enhanced student perceptions and associated learning outcomes. The findings indicate that student beliefs about the value of research are less fluent in comparison to student perceptions of research and learning outcomes in the domain of research. This study contributes to an emerging body of knowledge about improving students’ research knowledge through student engagement in research as a pedagogy i.e., through learning activities within the undergraduate curriculum.




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