The BMJ Today: How can doctors learn about research?

tiago_villanuevaIn my previous role at The BMJ, I had the chance to work on Endgames, whose educational content is aimed at helping junior doctors in the UK and around the world prepare for their postgraduate examinations. Apart from case reports and picture quizzes, Endgames also include a series of weekly quizzes called “Statistical question,” which cover concepts of statistics, clinical epidemiology, and research, and are written by London based statistician and professor of statistics Philip Sedgwick.

Primary care research has always lagged behind research carried out in hospitals for many reasons, but many countries—such as the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, or Australia, just to mention a few—now have world class research units and teams, and some of the resulting work ends up published in The BMJ.

For instance, let’s consider pragmatic randomised controlled trials. We have recently published one from the Netherlands and one from the UK. One recent Endgames statistical question explains what the difference is between a pragmatic and an explanatory trial. In short, pragmatic trials are carried out in routine clinical practice settings, and measure the benefit of treatment in clinical practice rather than under ideal conditions.

Another recent Endgames statistical question looks at tests of interaction in randomised controlled trials, using the example of a primary care trial. It is important to consider if there are interactions between treatment group and explanatory variables before starting the trial, since it may only be worth investigating the effect of treatment separately in subgroups if there’s a significant interaction between the treatment group and an explanatory variable.

Research can often be a more uncertain and unstable career path for doctors than clinical medicine. A recent news story reports that in the United States a cancer researcher, who was due to start a new academic position at the University of Mississippi, eventually saw his job offer being taken away from him because of concerns that arose after anonymous comments were posted on the website Pub Peer, which questioned the integrity of his research.

In the meantime, keep coming back to our website for new Endgames statistical questions, even if you don’t have any postgraduate exams to worry about. They may also help you better understand research papers in The BMJ, which in turn may help you improve your clinical practice. And trust me, they’re even read by experienced researchers.

Tiago Villanueva is assistant editor, The BMJ.