Research. Embrace It.

“Google' is not a synonym for 'research'.” 
― Dan BrownThe Lost Symbol

When I saw that research was a mandatory component in order to receive the Bachelor of Medicine part of my Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S.) degree I'll admit, I wasn't too thrilled.

At the end of our year 2 examinations, back in May 2014 my class was placed into groups, assigned a Principal Investigator and  given a topic. This is what we would spend our summer and Christmas vacation doing; Conducting Research.  Previous graduating years were afforded the opportunity of choosing their group members, topic and even their supervisor.

Our topic initially was "The effectiveness of academic research in policy development in the Caribbean". Quite broad and one I would not have picked if I had the opportunity to. It was the first study of its kind to be done in our Faculty and now I know why.

At the end of our countless meetings (where we brainstormed our methodology, study design as well as our study's aim and objectives) collectively we decided that our title needed revision and so we agreed on the title "The Extent to Which Academic Research Influences Policy Development in the Caribbean Countries of The Bahamas, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago." Once we had a clear topic, we needed to narrow down the policies that we would be studying and the areas of medicine. As a result  the communicable disease HIV/AIDS due to its sustained prevalence, the non-communicable diseases Type II Diabetes and Hypertension due to its recent increase in Caribbean countries and as travel and trade are more globalized, the vector-borne diseases Dengue and Chikungunya are now emerging in countries where they were otherwise non-existent, these were chosen.

Policy planning, development and implementation is not an overnight process. Rather its just the opposite; it takes years!
It can involve as little as 8 steps to as many as 11, and its foundation is built on research. Being ignorant to what policy development entailed, I didn't expect to see research anywhere in the process. As our study developed and we started speaking with personnel of the Ministry of Health's Policy Planning, Development and Implementation Departments of our focus countries, I realized how vital its role is in the overall process.

In the Caribbean, research is being conducted, published and presented and yet their findings aren't making it on the desks or in the line of sight of those who are able to allow it to be utilized when healthcare policies are being revised or when new ones are being formulated. It made me wonder if this is the major contributing factor to the state of our healthcare systems throughout the Caribbean.

I can tell you, having to review Journal publications from the West Indian Medical Journal, poster presentations from the Caribbean Public Health Agency and policies from the MOH of three countries as they relate to HIV/AIDS, Type II Diabetes and Hypertension and Dengue and Chikungunya, is not an easy task. It can however be very difficult especially when faced with a lack of cooperation despite your Ethical Approval.

Yet, we pushed forward.

What this study proved was that we in the Caribbean are still moving very slowly in an ever advancing world. It was reassuring to know however, that we do follow and meet the standards and guidelines that are in place by the Pan American Health Organization as well as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control when it comes to our policies for the aforementioned areas of medicine.

It made me question why our regional research findings are not being used, to which the answer was for one country, the findings were not available or easily accessible when they needed them to revise or plan new policies and another went on to mention that their country lacks an organized structure or body whose sole purpose would be coordination of stakeholders and resources in order for academic research to be conducted and the findings to be used in the policy development process.

As expected, each Ministry of Health will be faced with certain limitations that would affect which policies will be revised and whether or not new policies would be implemented. That goes without saying. My question was, at the end of all of this "How can we get the Ministry of Health of each Caribbean country, to pay attention to the research that is being done, and to utilize their findings along with those of academic research being conducted internationally?"

 Research is not the terrible step-child of medicine. Although I am not the biggest fan of it, I can accept the vital role it plays in the advancement of medicine. When we allow research to benefit the society,then and only then will we start to see a change in the development of healthcare policies in the Caribbean. My advice to you as a future medical student is this; learn to embrace research as your findings may be the key to unlock the way in which medicine is being practiced.

The Policy Developers

Are you a part of a team conducting research this year? What is it about? Feel free to let me know all about it in the comments below. If you have any questions about Research Day, you can leave those there as well. 

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