Evidence-based practice has emerged as the standard by which established and future providers will be expected to execute the delivery of medical care. Several learning experiences are used to develop the students’ ability to identify questions to be answered through investigation and properly convey their findings to others. These skills are essential to engaging in practice-based learning and improvement over the course of one’s professional career.
Health Research Methods
Knowledge of the research process is explored in-depth during the Health Research Methods (HRM) course. It is used to evaluate the quality of published literature dealing with diseases diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, harm and cost-effectiveness. Following completion of the course, students will identify, investigate, and answer a question using the research method coupled with statistical strategies under the mentorship of two faculty members with expertise in the area under investigation.
Following completion of the HRM course and prior to the end of the didactic phase of the curriculum each student must identify a topic for their research. Research leading to the Master's Paper can involve:
- Retrospective chart reviews to answer questions regarding clinical outcomes or to further interpret and compare laboratory results with current practice protocols.
- Prospective studies assessing outcomes of a clinical or educational intervention.
- Surveys to gather data on issues such as physician assistant attitudes, roles, and/or education or patient satisfaction regarding a clinical or educational intervention.
- Meta-analyses/case studies to draw upon the results of other research and literature reviews in addressing specific research question, or
- Other research deemed appropriate by the student's research mentors and the program director.
Regarding case studies, the topic must be generated from an actual case in which the student was involved.
Faculty mentors serve as teachers, tutors, role models, and counselors. Through questioning and observation, expert faculty members also serve as mentors and facilitators of the student's research effort. Each student will have two faculty mentors with the expertise needed to nurture the student's ability to conduct a research project.
Primary Mentor - The primary mentor with whom the student works closely should have sufficient expertise in the chosen research field to guide development of the project design, troubleshoot unanticipated problems, and evaluate the results on an ongoing basis. In collaboration with the student, the primary mentor approves the initial proposal; establishes time lines to guide the planning, conducting, analyzing, and writing stages of the project; and approves the final paper for content accuracy and scientific merit.
Secondary Mentor - The secondary mentor serves as an advisor and advocate as necessary to help resolve conflicts or issues that might occur during the course of the research activity. The secondary mentor is primarily responsible for assuring that the student's work is presented according to the required guidelines for the Master's Paper. The secondary mentor is also expected to carefully review the manuscript for grammar, syntax, and composition and may return the paper to the student if many such errors are present before further review.
During the clinical phase of the curriculum, students come out of the clinical setting and are assigned full time to the Master’s Paper Project (MPP) Coordinator for two four-week periods of time. While so assigned, each student participates in orientations, conferences, work group sessions, and mock presentations. The product of these activities is the first draft of the Master’s Paper and a poster to be presented during the annual Allied Health Student Research Day. Preparation of the Master's Paper and the Poster Presentation are viewed as a means by which to further develop each student’s ability to communicate essential information to others.
Student Research Day
Allied Health Student Research Day occurs in December of each year prior to graduation. The posters and presentations provide opportunities for students to share the results, discuss the implications of their findings with faculty and other students, and gain experience in presenting research data in a scholarly environment. Faculty judges select the "best poster" and second and third place winners. The student author of the "best poster" receives a $500 cash award and second and third place winners receive $250 and $100, respectively. All third year PA students are required to participate in the competition.
Master’s Papers of Graduated Students
Since 1990 program graduates have completed 601 research projects resulting in written master's papers through December 2012. A majority of the papers involved descriptive studies designs of which one-third were population-based, another third involved case studies, and the remainder dealt with educational programs. Of the research studies using explanatory designs, cross-sectional studies were used most often, with experiential clinical trials the next most common. Both prospective and retrospective data collection was carried out with the majority of data collection involving retrospective chart reviews. Prospective data was gathered via surveys, experiments, and interviews. Only five of the research projects utilized qualitative techniques. The level of statistical analysis encompassed the calculation of arithmetic means, determination of significance and confidence intervals, performance of analyses of variance, generation of factor analyses, and the calculation of survival curves.