Neetha Balaram is an Assistant Professor at Department of Neurology in Government Medical College, Kozhikode. She is currently the lead for epilepsy subsection including paediatric epilepsy. In this invited article, she shares her experiences of navigating medical research outside her comfort zone as a clinician turned researcher.
I have wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. As soon as I achieved that, my aim shifted toward neurology! After 15 years of medical education, when I had finally become a neurologist, I felt complete and content!
That feeling of contentment was short-lived.
It happened while I joined as an Assistant Professor in Neurology at a Government Medical College. I developed a keen scientific interest in the field of epilepsy. Electrophysiology and EEG ignited the researcher in me.
“From stability to a state of constant disequilibrium,” has been my journey and my story!
Once a clinician turns into a researcher, she loses the stability of a clinician. The scientific questions create a state of perpetual disequilibrium. A research aptitude can be evoked in more clinicians if medical research is included as a subject in basic medical training. It will help develop research aptitude in young minds before they graduate. I am aware this suggestion is easier said because of the cumbersome curriculum and rigorous clinical work along with the overflowing patient load. However, as long as research is not considered a separate entity, this can be achieved.
These 18 years of clinical experience have taught me that clinical research is interesting and challenging (sometimes even more!), much like clinical work in a hospital. During the course of our education, we were taught only to learn the signs/symptoms/clinical pearls from our seniors, lectures, and textbooks. We were never inspired to think about research questions.
Once a clinician develops the right research aptitude, it can integrate in her daily routine. The research questions come flowing without having to brainstorm for them.
This disequilibrium is magical — a clinician converts extensive medical knowledge, data, and experience into clinical research. What makes it magical is the collaboration between departments — clinical and nonclinical and between clinicians and scientists. For my projects, I collaborated with geneticists, psychiatrists, psychologists, neuroscientists, and electrophysiologists. Proper documentation of clinical data is an important contributor to the magic — most hospitals maintain perfect medical records nowadays. Documents are ‘gold mines’ when it comes to research. The answers which we seek can never be sought without the help of proper documents.
The disequilibrium keeps the researcher in us active and prompts us to dig further into the area of our interest. As my mentor rightly puts it, we have to “talk, listen and breathe” in the particular field in which we are interested.
Contrary to the widespread belief, top-class medical research can be based on the extensive clinical data available in our hospitals without involving any enormous funds. Ample funding opportunities are provided by the central/state governments for pursuing clinical research in India. We have to be aware of utilising these opportunities.
It is high time for Indian clinical and hospital research to pick pace with the rest of the world. It is the right time for young Indian medical professionals to step out of their safe cocoons and be in the state of constant DISEQUILIBRIUM!