Teaching hypothesis-oriented thinking to medical students: The University of Florida's clinical investigation program
Recent studies show alarming decreases in the proportions of physicians applying for federal resources and of graduating medical students who declare strong interest in pursuing careers as physician-scientists. To expose medical students in their formative years to hypothesis-driven experimental investigations in a clinical setting, the first-year curriculum at the University of Florida has involved students as both investigators and study subjects in patient-oriented research conducted in the General Clinical Research Center (GCRC). Each year a hypothesis-driven experiment is conceived by first-year medical students in the university's MD-PhD program. Later in the year, the protocol is implemented in the GCRC by the entire freshman class, whose members serve as volunteer study subjects or as investigators. The experimental data are analyzed by the MD-PhD students, who report their findings at national biomedical research meetings and submit a manuscript on their project to a peer-reviewed journal. The authors describe students' research projects over the first six years of this GCRC-based program. They also describe the responses of former students to a questionnaire about their perceptions of the value of the research program. Most respondents considered the GCRC research exercise to have been useful and relevant to their overall education, and many more declared a current interest in pursuing research careers compared with the number who had declared such interest as freshmen. The authors conclude that early integration of hands-on, patient-oriented research into the medical school curriculum is a positive educational experience for students, and may contribute to their ultimate pursuit of academic research careers.