Electives are sources of ‘communicable skills’ in undergraduate medical curriculum which endorse not only knowledge and skills objectives but also the attitudinal ones8. The contribution of elective course in professional development of undergraduate medical students in scientific publishing field is an opportunity to increase their publishing potential; a current need for career enhancement1.
The majority of students selected to join our course based on their interest in scientific publishing.
“I was really excited about it”, “I want to share in publishing scientific papers in famous journals and get my CV improved”, “my lifelong dream is to become a researcher and scientific writing is an integral essence of being a researcher.”, all those students’ quotes reflected their awareness and motivation towards the importance of scientific publishing.
Inadequately designed curricula and barriers to research have not enabled students to realize the crucial importance of research to clinical practice9. This was not the case in our course where learning objectives in our course were designed to nurture the interest of students in scientific publishing, improve their writing and research skills, exhibiting leadership, teamwork and creativity10. Moreover, the teaching and learning methods were selected to equip the students with the aforementioned skills. The effectiveness of such methods was evident in student satisfaction about the course content and even their interest in joining advanced levels9.
Using small group learning model helps in improving perceptions, limiting barriers, motivating students and improving the quality of mentoring9. This was applied in our course design where each staff member supervised 8 students /group. Faced by COVID-19, we were forced to decrease the physical gathering and contact with students which was a main limitation in the course design, as stated by both students and staff members. However, we used different online communication channels (Microsoft teams, WhatsApp, e- mails, zoom) as an alternative to be able to follow up the students on a regular basis. Papapanou et al.11, reported that COVID-19 pandemic has definitely disturbed the well-established, traditional structure of medical education. The restrictions on of physical attendance enhanced the increase in usage of an online learning tools, including both asynchronous and synchronous teaching sessions.
Suter 12 stated that good review paper can clarify the state of knowledge, explain apparent contradictions, identify needed research, and even create a consensus where none existed before. This goes parallel to our course design in which we chose review article as an example to be practiced by our students. Another crucial factor for such selection was that the duration of the course was not enough to conduct other research types. However, students at the end of the course were motivated to learn how to publish researches other than review article
Students showed satisfaction regarding working as a team. Team work encourages students to share experiences and learn from others. Teamwork has become a major focus amongst healthcare professionals for doctors, the art of teamwork needs to be developed from the early stages of training, in order to minimize fragmentation of care and its detrimental impact on patients. The World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of doctors adopting a multi-disciplinary team approach, yet amongst medical students, collaborative work is often disregarded. Fundamentally, the system that produces future doctors overlooks the importance of teamwork. Therefore, the undergraduate curriculum must be reshaped to embed teamwork within its principles. Future doctors will thus be equipped with lifelong abilities to collaborate closely amongst peers in order to deliver care holistically13.
In this elective course, students chose freely the topics of their review articles for publishing from different medical specialties, this gave them the opportunity to expand their learning across different academic fields and to dig up their knowledge and encouraging them to follow their interests, as published by other researchers7.
Although there was a workload on staff members in this work, they played a crucial role as mentors for the students along the path from choosing a good title, writing a good review article, helping them in distribution of roles and ending by submission of the research. The students expressed their great feelings towards their mentors. Mabvuure14 stated that it is easy to learn fundamental research and skills to undergraduate students, however, medical educators shouldn’t only direct students to research opportunities but also to counsel them on the attitudes required for the student’s success in a research environment.
COVID-19 pandemic confers many challenges for the course team. The lockdown logistics hinders the normal process of course announcement, staff recruitment, and student enrollment. We hereby faced many restrictions: Firstly, the course timing and duration: it was only a 4-weeks course, that was delivered during a crowded academic schedule. Secondly, is the unavailability of an adequate number of teaching staff member to participate. Thirdly, we accepted large number of students, as an attempt to help our students to finish their electives courses during this overwhelming crisis, where no one could tell when it will end. However, the students were able to submit their review article with a high work load and great efforts from both mentors and students.
In conclusion, scientific publishing is suitable and interesting for undergraduate medical students that could be successfully delivered as one of the elective courses. Although, many COVID-19 lockdown related challenges were faced in this newly introduced course; the unsuitable timing and duration of the course, large number of students, and small number of teaching staff needed for continuous monitoring of students. However, the students’ performance, commitment and satisfaction about the course content and success to submit their review article reflect good preparation of course content and the students’ readiness to be a good researcher if suitable support is available. The impact of elective courses on the skills of potential doctors should be further investigated to maximize its benefits.