narrative medicine

How to conduct research without really trying

I’m doing my capstone (thesis) project on writing during the clinical years.  Which means that for the past few weeks, I’ve been running around administering surveys to the second and third year classes.  It’s a Pavlovian response: sighting a short white coat means brandishing a double sided piece of paper and pleading collaboration.

I have this little speech all planned out, where I detail the rationale, risks (none) and benefits (evaluate your curriculum anonymously).  I actually had to submit this speech to the internetz in order to get IRB approval.  But in real life, when I show up with my folder full of surveys — well, I fully admit that I act like a spaz in front of these people.  Clinical students, being busy, have a tendency to run away directly after preceptor meetings, which is where I usually try to catch them. So in some cases, I literally run after them.  These are going to be the people I graduate with guys.  It’s embarrassing.

I considered a couple of workarounds, including an online survey.  Except for this to be valid, I need a decently representative sample, and honestly, who really fills out online surveys?  Admittedly, I get a few “n/a” or other one-word responses to my carefully crafted open-ended questions, but I can deal with those, because they are a drop in the bucket.

I “did” research in undergrad, too, because I was considering MD/PhD.  By which I mean, I followed a protocol and fed samples into an extremely temperamental machine my PI had designed.  That machine was possessed. It took forever to get results — they just published the work I’d been doing in 2006 — but it helped me definitively rule out bench research as a career choice.

Qualitative research is a different beast altogether.  I find I quite enjoy reading some of the responses on my questionnaire; they fall under the heading of “Med Students Say the Darndest Things,” and I’d report them here except that’s probably a confidentiality violation and the IRB — like Big Brother or my elderly psychotic patient’s computer — sees all.

But the spazzing … it would be nice if that could stop.


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