Medical Student Research: The First Year Quandary

The problem with the Indian Medical Curriculum is that it is too intense, as it should be, no complaints there, but it offers no leeway to people who want to test out the waters in the fields like medical student research or public health or other associated streams not directly fed by the MBBS course curriculum.

Take for example, the dilemma of my friend, who is in the First Year of Medical School at a big and renowned hospital, about 1000 km away from my place. He writes to me asking for some motivating mantra because although he wants to do some student-level research, he is coming up against one obstacle after the other. Now this is just pathetic.

Another example is from my life. Me and another friend, a couple of years below me in the chronological order, were selected to attend the very prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Science Research summer scholarship which promised to place the handful of qualified students into big research institutes. Unfortunately for us, it required us to move away from the college for a period of 60 days. When I went to the Dean with my letter of acceptance, he LOLed out so hard as if I was making a bad joke. He let me off saying I could go if I wanted to, but if my attendance was below 75%, he would not let me take the final exams. Now since we do not have ANY summer or winter or for that matter any kind of vacation which is more than 15 continuous days (durga puja holidays), I could not risk it.

I now hear that JNCASR has closed doors for the MBBS students.

Anyways. Typically, a first year MBBS student joins medical school in August in India and is expected to take the First Professional MBBS exam sometime around May-June next year. So that is about 10 months’ time. Take out the first month because getting acclimatized to the razzmatazz of college life kind of gets you down (unless you are a gunner of the worst kind).Besides, since most of the med students come in to medical schools following the clearing of an intense entrance examination, for which they have to prepare for 2 or more years with intense integrity. So naturally, once one gets into college, a bit of a release phenomenon hits in, and the first couple of months often whoosh by without realizing.

So, effectively, the average first year medical student has about 8 months to take two semester exams, one end of the year professional biggie, attend AT LEAST 75% classes, most of which are rotten anyways, has to cross the hurdle called ANATOMY. And then, and only then, if they get a chance, they try their hands at medical student research.

So the first year problem statement is:

How to balance studies, social life and college pressure and then find some more time to dabble in medical student research?

Research for Medical Students

I am going to wrack my brains and come up with some easy-to-implement strategies to balance the two in my next post, and in the meanwhile, if YOU know of any good ways to hit the balance, let me know in the comments or if you want it to be private between you, me (and the entire of Google), send me an email at:


15 thoughts on “Medical Student Research: The First Year Quandary

  1. Why would a medical student want to “dabble in medical student research?” Part of the purpose of the stressful medical student experience may be to teach one to prioritize under stress. Surely, real research in that sort of atmosphere must become vanishingly rare.


    1. I agree. MBBS grads are supposed to qualify as clinicians and not researchers. But in our case, there being absolutely no exposure to medical research, we end up being sorely crippled in the matters of EBM. Now I think a basic idea of grappling with research is essential for interpreting and disseminating the best possible evidence based care.

      The problem is not in becoming full fledged researchers making path breaking findings. Leave that to the PhDs. What I think we are in need of, is a basic idea of knowing how the machinery of medical research works. 🙂

      Thanks for caring to take the time out to read and then comment on it!


    2. “a basic idea of knowing how the machinery of medical research works” Wouldn’t that come from the teachers/lecturers as they deal with their students? I may be missing something in regard to Indian medical education but the few Indian doctors I know or knew seemed fairly normal physicians to me.


    3. I am guessing the Indian doctors you saw were above the average grade (assuming they made it across an International exam which would require a certain intellectual competence that even the treacherous education system failed to dumb down). Also, there is little to no teaching beyond what is needed for a passing grade on the exams. The failure of medical teachers/lecturers is of essence in this problem.

      The medical education system is mechanical just as it is, and when the teachers themselves become a part of the problem, lending to mnemonic based medical education, it becomes infinitely worse…


  2. I completely agree with PC. The Indian medical curriculum is extremely claustrophobic with absolutely no encouragement of original thinking. We are always trained to follow the textbooks without ever questioning or wondering how the guidelines in the textbooks were written.

    The point about research is not to publish some amazing studies or present at conferences. The more fundamental issue is how to approach a problem and developing the mental faculty of trying to develop solutions for it. It helps a young medical student to think laterally and originally and that mental training can be invaluable to his application in the real world dealing with patients. At least personally I realized very late in my short medical career how undeveloped my ability to think originally was and how it is hurting me in my endeavor to try and do the best for the patient.

    I can continue the tirade against the medical curriculum but do not want to waste my words on it. I think research should be actively encouraged, mentored and fostered. It is upto each individual student to decide how much benefit he wants to derive out of it. The only way it can happen in India is if there is a strong will at the higher level to develop policies to encourage it and give it weight in some form. I understand that this would require a paradigm shift in the mentality of everyone involved with medical education but I think even few small steps can go a long way.



    1. We shall be flogging a dead horse of we go into the issue of the claustrophobic curriculum. As you and I both know, the major stress is on getting the passing grade more than anything else. It is a pity that the best minds of our schools enter medical school only to degenrate into algorithm running machines…


    2. couldnt blame on a system for a person to think original….i totally agree to the fact that med students in india doesn’t have enough encouragement to involve in research but it s not impossible…and to do best to the patient entirely depends on ur competence…


  3. I don’t know about other countries’ schedule for medical students, but here in West Bengal it is more than intense. I am doing MBBS from R. G. Kar Medical College, Kolkata, and here people are just running behind the marks, attending theory classes and short exams (items). No one likes to learn the subject scientifically, all goes the cramming way. Teachers in viva ask that tell me which topic did I teach you? I mean even you like to do some research or read your own way here within this hectic and utter nonsense schedule you can not do anything better.


    1. Medical Education in Bengal is quite like what one of my mentors often says: passage of information from the mouth of the teacher to the ears of the students (and then onto their exam papers) without passing through the brains of either of them…

      Can you honestly tell me when was the last time that something that was taught in class genuinely interested and intrigued you? Medicine is a wonderful subject, The human body, in all its complexities and simplicities, is an exquisitely designed entity. When was the last time a lecture made you marvel at the beauty of the human physiology/anatomy/biochemistry?

      Breaking down the essence of the subject into bite sized morsels and spoon feeding them for the purpose of exam mastering is a very degenerate way of teaching medicine… and honestly, that seems to me the modus operandi in our system at present…


  4. I think the fault both with the medical colleges and the institutions that offer such student fellowships. Every single one of the fellowships that I have come across clashes with the medical curricula. I mean if institutes like JNCASR want to encourage medical research wouldn’t it have been better if they first sat with the high and mighty of the medical education system and devised something that we could actually attend?


    1. VERY well put. This was one of the complaints I made to the JNCASR when I realized, after much running from pillar to post, that I would not be able to take the fellowship without seriously damaging my prospects of taking the professional exams. In this regard, the leniency of the ICMR STS is remarkable.


  5. Thanks for all the comments. I learned quite a lot. I have no idea how things are done these days in medical schools in the USA but in the late 50s and 60s we complained because our teachers were always telling us about their research rather than what we thought we needed to know about taking care of patients. But then we started post-graduate studies where we learned how to take care of patients by actually caring for them.


    1. Thanks for sparking the lively debate in the comments section. I believe that MBBS courses should focus on creating a general physician but should also hand him the instrument of research analysis. And by that I do not just mean talking to them about their research but teaching them the basic tools needed for medical research.


  6. A very interesting discussion has been going on here indeed. i find myself unlucky to have reached the page so late. Better late than never.
    I got selected for the KVPY scholarship in 2010 and have been doing my training sessions in Institutes in Delhi under ICMR guidance. But the idea that has been plaguing me is that, in the present teaching setup, mainly in the Govt. sector, how will it be possible to implement my experience in fruitful work.
    @pranabda: You were very correct in pointing out that a clinician need not be trained by some mouth-to-ear rote training as in conventional methods. It has become quite evident that in modern day medicine, even day-to-day practice requires a level of self-learning and competence for which independent thinking and understanding of the core ideas of medicine is essential. And for this to be applied for the development of the academic aspect as well, research methods must be implemented in the curriculum, which is hugely lacking at present.


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