Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Fledgling Pakistani group looks to train medical students in research

A recent Nature Medicine opinion article that called on the UK to fund more research opportunities for medical students resonated thousands of miles away. Pakistani medical students are now also asking their government to put more money toward educating young physician-researchers.

The need for funding support is, in part, a by product of substantial interest in such training. Since its founding in January 2011, the Pakistan Medical Students’ Research Society (PMSRS) has quickly swelled to more than 500 members. “Two years ago there was very little guidance for students, and opportunities for students to actually conduct research were basically nonexistent,” says Akhtar Amin, president of PMSRS and a third year medical student at Dow University of Health Sciences in Karachi. “Our organization is helping to change this, but we need the financial support of our government.”

In the past two years PMSRS has focused primarily on organizing free symposia on topics related to research careers, such as manuscript writing, presenting scientific data, experimental design and bioinformatics. They say the 17 symposia given so far have attracted more than 800 students, some of whom are located remotely and watch the presentations as internet broadcasts.

Those medical students based in Karachi are also paired by the organization with research mentors. “Funding would allow us to expand the mentor program,” says PMSRS adviser and research mentor Asif Qureshi, a physician and research associate at Dow University of Health Sciences. Qureshi notes that only 80 students have been paired with research mentors, in part because lack of resources makes it difficult to get the word out.

The organization’s primary domestic target for future funding is the Pakistan Medical Research Council, which is the country’s equivalent to the US National Institutes of Health. But the PMSRS also hopes to look outside its borders to make international resources available to Pakistani medical students. “We recently organized an online course collaborating with Indian medical students,” says Qureshi, who says such partnerships with countries where biomedical research is highly funded will be fruitful for students in his homeland.

To that end, he hopes that in the future PMSRS will be able to provide travel grants for Pakistani students doing research fellowships in the US and elsewhere. “Studying research abroad gives a big boost to students,” says Amin, who says he has been accepted to a summer research program at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore this summer. “We need more money to help make those connections.”

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