Featured in The Times Higher Education Supplement - 23 February 2012
Times Higher Education review:
Medical knowledge is advancing unbelievably quickly, and medical practice has been revolutionised by scientific research that is not only groundbreaking, but well considered and based on sound scientific principles. Not surprisingly, many medical schools now expect students to participate in research projects, and evidence of such work is de rigueur for job applications post-qualification. By examining key developments in medicine we can see the complexities of the theoretical approaches and methodologies used. I find it essential to cultivate this understanding in the medical students I supervise; moreover, it allows them to experience the sheer excitement of medical research.
Understanding Medical Research, aimed at the young medical researcher of the future, should therefore be timely, especially given the focus made explicit in its subtitle, The Studies that Shaped Medicine. It is ambitious and covers a wide range of clinical disorders, and the authors of each chapter have chosen publications that contribute most to progress in their medical specialty. Each chapter ends with key questions, which are useful in pointing to further exploration, perhaps through involvement in research projects. This text avoids being a classic review of the literature, but seeks instead to provide a glimpse into the "unique blend of science and pragmatism", to quote the chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson's admirable foreword, which can have a profound impact on medical practice.
I found the opening chapter on the epidemiological aspect of medicine particularly effective in accomplishing that aim, with its historical context and deft glimpses of the complex interactions between medicine, sociology and political change, and broad-brushstroke sketches of those involved. Likewise, "Patient safety" begins with Florence Nightingale, who was not renowned for "medical research" but who is shown here to have used a meticulous, evidence-based approach in collecting and analysing data; a fine example for anyone starting out in population-based research. I appreciated the inclusion of James Reason's work on accident causation, originally conceived for non-medical problems but which is now an approach that profoundly influences modern medical practice.
Other chapters juxtapose different research methods, for example computer modelling and in vivo studies, or describe the revolutionising impact of modern genetics. Research papers often tell a good story, and I was particularly engaged by the chapter "Helicobacter pylori, peptic ulcers and gastric cancer". Understanding normal biology is essential in comprehending disease pathology, as is clearly shown in the chapter "Inherited diseases of haemoglobin", and also in "Transplantation", which focuses on monoclonal antibodies, now routinely used in basic research and chemical pathology.
Although there are many other equally fine examples, not all the chapters reach this high level. Overall, I am unsure whether this volume completely addresses the challenge of understanding medical research, which requires appreciation of the researcher's thought process, hypotheses and methodologies employed. Certainly I had a glimpse of the studies that shaped modern medicine. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate if the subtitle were the main title. - Isobel Braidman, Senior Lecturer in Medicine, University of Manchester Medical School, and a Higher Education Academy national teaching fellow
“Round the edge of one two pound coin design is engraved the words: 'standing on the shoulders of giants', the famous quote from Isaac Newton; this great book provides the foothold that young and old require.” - Sir Muir Gray, Kt, CBE, DSc, MD, FRCPSGlas, FCLIP, Director of the National Knowledge Service and Chief Knowledge Officer to the NHS
“Medical research is at the core of all we do in healthcare. Understanding where we’ve come from is critical to planning future research, promoting innovation and developing leadership. ‘Understanding Medical Research’ provides a firm foundation of knowledge in medical research that will be essential reading for academics and health service professionals alike.” - Prof the Lord Darzi of Denham, PC, KBE, Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery, Imperial College London, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lords) at the Department of Health
“It covers the topic in depth from its definition, pathology and each paragraph that has come from a different source is referenced at the top. It gives a great and in depth view of a topic and cites the sources used. Excellent.” - Foundation Year Doctor, Ulster Hospital