PhD PROGRAM. Since 2006, the median age of students with medical degrees beginning PhD courses has decreased by six years, with the most obvious drop in age coming for PhD students who had been ‘amanuenser’ (research and teaching assistants) during their time as medical students.
Research doctors are an important link when it comes to implementing new scientific discoveries in the healthcare system and identifying unresolved clinical issues that need further research. The Sahlgrenska Academy and Region Västra Götaland are both keen for doctors to begin researching as early as possible.
“When you ask doctors if they are interested in doing research, the answer is often a resounding ‘yes’, but in reality it is something they find difficult to do. If a doctor has been doing clinical work for several years, it is even more difficult to switch to research. That’s why it’s so important for doctors to begin researching as early as possible, during their basic training even,” says Levent Akyürek, who up until recently was director of studies for the amanuens program for medical students at Sahlgrenska Academy.
The current amanuens program for medical students began life in 2009 as a joint initiative between Sahlgrenska University Hospital and the Sahlgrenska Academy through collaboration organization Medi-SAM; building on a previous, smaller, version of the amanuens assistant program and expanding it to create the program that exists today.
Smooth Passage through PhD Program
Bojan Tubić was one of the first medical students to gain a place on the expanded amanuens program in 2009. He sailed through the researcher training and last fall, at the age of 32, became the youngest doctor among his colleagues at SU’s ear, nose and throat clinic to defend his thesis.
“I received a lot of praise from my colleagues at the clinic for defending my thesis so early in my career,” he tells us, before pointing out that the amanuens program paved the way to him becoming both an intern (AT) researcher and resident (ST) researcher at Sahlgrenska University Hospital:
“It would have been much more difficult for me to get into research without the amanuens program. It gave me security for three years, and a long-term plan. I had a very good supervisor and co-supervisor who pushed things on, and I was able to assimilate articles from my time as an amanuens in my thesis, which meant that I was able to defend my thesis sooner.”
Bojan began his medical studies in Copenhagen. When he switched to Gothenburg, he had to wait six months for his new course to begin, and started to research on projects by Staffan Mårild and Diana Swolin-Eide, after receiving a grant from the ‘Mary von Sydow’ foundation. Via the new amanuens program, he was then paid for four hours a week of research work over a three-year period, as well as receiving payment for two months’ work as a full-time researcher during the summer months. He then went on to write his thesis about the project he was part of at the Pediatric Growth Research Center at Östra sjukhuset in Gothenburg. He was enrolled for his PhD and had started his research training before his 28th birthday.
Drop in Age Evident
Eight years on from the launch of the new and ambitious amanuens program, we are now able to see what it has achieved. Between 2006 and 2015, the median age for students with medical degrees beginning PhDs went down by six years, from 42 to 36. The biggest drop in age was observed among the PhD students who had previously been amanuens assistants, who had a median age of 28 when they were enrolling onto research programs.
The amanuens program is a strategic investment that has delivered results, in other words. Since Gothenburg is taking such a unique comprehensive approach, i.e. with all students on the medical program welcome to apply, other seats of learning have also got in touch to find out more about the program structure.
“The program has become an intrinsic part of what we offer, plus a key part of profiling for the medical program in Gothenburg, tying in with research early on. I know of students who applied to Gothenburg specifically so that they could apply for our amanuens program,” Levent Akyürek tells us.
When surveyed, 14 out of 19 of the first intake of students on the amanuens program stated that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the program and would recommend it to their peers.
The number of applications for the research program has provided further indication that the students are interested in researching, with the program becoming so popular, that just one in four applicants went on to gain a place on the amanuens program during the last round of applications.
The directors of studies for the amanuens program are currently Daniel Giglio and Åsa Torinsson Naluai. To read more about the program, go to: http://sahlgrenska.gu.se/utbildning/amanuens/amanuensprogram
To read the Op-Ed article from Läkartidningen about Sahlgrenska Academy’s amanuens program (Swedish only), go to: http://lakartidningen.se/Opinion/Debatt/2017/03/Tidig-forskningssatsning-ger-langsiktigt-engagemang/
TEXT: ELIN LINDSTRÖM CLAESSEN