Are college mandated research requirements for trainee doctors incentivising research waste?

Paulie Stehlik, Peter Fawzy, Isaac Narouz, Caitlin Brandenburg, Christy Noble, David A Henry, Paul P Glasziou

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Patient do better in research-intense environments.1 The importance of research is program requirements of trainee doctors globally. In 1994, the late Doug Altman raised concerns about doctors conducting research to progress their careers;2 however, the nature of college mandated research development, including scholarly projects, has not been systematically explored.
We aimed to examine the research development curricula of Australian medical colleges and the expected stages of research engagement.

We undertook a content analysis exercise to map the research development curricula of Australian College physician and surgical training. We reviewed all publicly accessible information from college websites, including curricula, handbooks, and assessment-related documents.
Research activities were coded as learning outcomes, learning activities, or assessments; and by research engagement stage (using, participating in, or leading research). We coded learning and assessment activities by type (formal research training, thesis, publication, etc.), whether it was mandatory, linked to a scholarly project, and whether the project supervisor’s required research experience. Completion requirements were further subdivided into: 1. only option; 2. option system: requirement is one of several options where the trainee needs to fulfil at least one option to gain fellowship; and 3. points system: requirement carries a prespecified number of “points” and trainee must collect a certain number of “points” to gain fellowship.

55 of 58 Australian colleges and subspecialty divisions required scholarly project requirement; one used an option system, and three a points system. Ten colleges required formal research training (one options based, two points based) and only two colleges required a research-experienced project supervisor.
Colleges emphasised leading research outcomes and assessments, but not learning activities. Less emphasis was placed on using research, and almost no emphasis on participation.
Overall, most learning and assessment activities were affiliated with completing a scholarly project rather than developing researcher capabilities.

Colleges appear to place emphasis on leading research and research deliverables, but not on developing researcher capabilities i.e. through formal research training and guidance from research experienced supervisors. Colleges may be unknowingly contributing to the growing reproducibility crisis and wastage in medical research but are also well positioned to improve research quality and reduce waste.

1. Jonker L, Fisher SJ. The correlation between National Health Service trusts' clinical trial activity and both mortality rates and care quality commission ratings: a retrospective cross-sectional study. Public Health 2018;157:1-6. doi:
2. Altman DG. The scandal of poor medical research. British Medical Journal 1994;308(6924):283-84. doi: 10.1136/bmj.308.6924.283 %J BMJ

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2020
EventREWARD-EQUATOR Conference 2020: Sharing strategies for Research Improvement - Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus, Berlin, Germany
Duration: 20 Feb 202022 Feb 2020
Conference number: 3rd


ConferenceREWARD-EQUATOR Conference 2020
OtherWe now have extensive evidence of the prevalence and impact of many wasteful research practices and practical strategies are emerging to improve research. At the REWARD | EQUATOR Conference 2020 our focus will shift to place emphasis on the development, evaluation and implementation of strategies to reduce waste and increase quality in research.

Covering the perspectives of Ethics Committees and Regulators, Publishers, Institutions and Researchers, and Funders, and with dedicated sessions relating to methodological issues in Research on Research, the Conference will bring together leading practitioners in research improvement in plenary sessions, and provide ample opportunities for discussion and facilitation of new collaborative partnerships.
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