Research involvement among undergraduate health sciences students : a cross-sectional study

Bovijn, J. ; Kajee, N. ; Esterhuizen, T. M. ; Van Schalkwyk, S. C. (2017-10-16)

CITATION: Bovijn, J., Kajee, N., Esterhuizen, T. M. & Van Schalkwyk, S. C. 2017. Research involvement among undergraduate health sciences students : a cross-sectional study. BMC Medical Education, 17:186, doi:10.1186/s12909-017-1025-x.

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Background: The development of research capacity among undergraduates is an important intervention in countering the documented decrease in medical and health sciences researchers. The literature on undergraduate research generally emanates from smaller scale studies that have been conducted in high income countries, with a focus on medical students. This cross-sectional study was conducted in a Sub-Saharan country, included a population of medical and allied health professions (AHP) students, and aimed to improve our understanding of the factors influencing undergraduate student research. Methods: A questionnaire was distributed to all students enrolled in an undergraduate programme at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa (including Medicine and four AHP programmes). Data was collected on a number of demographic characteristics and on 3 major outcome-themes: “voluntary research involvement”, “self-perceived research competence” and “future research participation”. Associations between characteristics and outcome themes were explored. Results: In total, 1815 students participated in the study (response rate 80.2%). Of all the demographic variables, discipline (AHP programmes vs. Medicine), male gender and prior undergraduate experience in a science degree were significantly associated with voluntary research involvement. Significantly higher levels of self-perceived research competence and greater interest in future research participation, were seen among participants from AHP programmes; males; and those with previous or current voluntary research involvement. Ethnicity and geographic background were not significantly associated with any of our outcomes. Conclusions: Our results offer important new evidence in support of the imperative to diversify the research work-force, in Sub-Saharan Africa and globally. Enhanced efforts aimed at achieving better academic representation in terms of gender, ethnicity, geographical and socio-economic backgrounds are strengthened by the findings of this study. Potential student researchers represent an important group amenable to further intervention. Further research may be required to explore the factors that determine the progression from interest to future participation in research.

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