Research is an integral component of development and is of particular importance for improving health and well-being of the population. Academic institutions in any society play the vital role of providing accurate and relevant research information that is useful both for academic learning and evidence-based decision making.
Health is defined as complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Public health is defined as the improvement of health status through organized services that are customized to the population’s needs. An understanding of the health status and the determinants of the health and disease in the population is, therefore, of utmost importance for developing and implementing appropriate health interventions. This understanding cannot be achieved without research, the responsibility for which rests with the academic institutions.
Saudi Arabia is currently facing an unprecedented increase in the incidence of and mortality from non-communicable diseases. Coronary artery disease, hypertension, cancer and diabetes mellitus are the top most causes of death (see figure below). Most of the morbidity and mortality are directly associated with sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy dietary practices and genetic factors. The key to meet this emerging threat is to develop community-based interventions to promote healthy lifestyles. This can only be achieved with carefully designed prevention research projects.
The College of Medicine has established a Research Center that also functions as a research support unit for the faculty and students and provides support and technical assistance to the Ministry of Health The goals of the Research Center are to build the research capacity of College faculty and students and to develop new knowledge for cost-effective health interventions. The Center facilitates scientific research in all disciplines and departments of the College; promotes evidence-based clinical practice; enhances the scientific basis for health services; fosters inter-disciplinary research within and outside the University; and helps in building linkages between medical practitioners, health administrators and researchers in the Qassim region.
The Research Center strives to establish a supportive environment for clinical, epidemiological and operations research, whereby the major health problems and their risk factors can be identified and studied, and effective programs for their management and control can be developed and implemented. Research studies conducted by the faculty members helps in developing health education programs, improving the quality and utilization of health services and in improving clinical and interpersonal skills of healthcare providers and the management skills of health administrators.
The mission of the Research Center includes: (1) improving the health of the population by conducting research that examines access to health care, improves quality of health care services and informs health policy and practice; (2) research capacity building of the faculty, the students and the healthcare providers; and (3) designing and leading the educational programs to achieve its goals.
Its specific objectives are:
To facilitate the research component of the basic graduate level public health courses (in family medicine and community medicine), e.g., supporting students in their Primary Healthcare rotations to collect and analyze data through small studies, or designing and conducting small-scale research studies in Hospital;
To offer advanced level optional short courses to the faculty and medical students of the University in public health disciplines such as:
- Basic and advanced concepts epidemiology and biostatistics
- Clinical research methods
- Observational studies, experimental studies and clinical trials
- Health management information systems and databases
- Using computer software programs for statistical analysis (e.g., SPSS)
- Research issues in disadvantaged population subgroups
- Reproductive health issues
- Population dynamics and demographic research methods
- Operations research methodology
- Monitoring and evaluation
To design and conduct research for health needs assessment and developing new interventions, technologies and approaches to improve health status
To evaluate the existing health interventions technologies and approaches
To develop leadership in the areas of health policy, health systems administration, knowledge management, resource generation and allocation, and capacity building
To provide technical support for designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating interventions to improve the demand, quality and accessibility of health services
To facilitate the design and conduct of health services research – a multidisciplinary field of inquiry that examines the use, costs, quality, delivery, organization, financing and outcomes of health services
The main functions of the Research Center are as follows:
- Identifying the health and population research needs of the region and country and developing a research agenda for the University.
- Designing research questions that are relevant to the health needs of the region and the country.
- Designing and conducting research projects within University and in the health services and/or communities served by health facilities (including community surveys, epidemiological studies, operations research and quality of care studies).
- Providing technical support and assistance to the students and faculty in designing, conducting, analyzing, interpreting and presenting research studies.
- Reviewing research proposals and facilitating financial support to researchers.
- Providing technical support to the University health journal, in terms of review of research articles, providing concise information, etc.
- Developing and continuously updating a health knowledge database within the University, comprising the most recent research studies, surveys, etc.
- Establishing an online literature search facility, and facilitating students and faculty in conducting online literature search.
- Developing short training courses in various aspects of research methods for students, faculty, healthcare providers and health services managers.
- Facilitating the establishment of certificate, diploma and masters levels courses in public health (e.g., Master of Public Health; Certificate in Operations Research Methods; Certificate in HMIS; etc.)
The Research Center plays its role in improving the health status of the population in the following ways:
- By providing opportunities for basic clinical research.
- By introduction of evidence-based decision making and quality of care mechanisms in the health system.
- By conducting operations research to identify the best interventions to achieve the health objectives (e.g., reduction of maternal and neonatal mortality).
- By preparing the medical and nursing students in the design, conduct, analysis and interpretation of independent research.
- By training of faculty in conducting independent research and in teaching research methods to medical students.
The Research Center also facilitates the design and development of the research component in the basic level public health (family and community medicine) courses, e.g., supporting students in their PHC rotations to collect and analyze data through small studies, or designing and conducting small-scale research studies in the teaching hospital. It will also facilitate developing advanced level optional short courses to senior medical students and interested faculty of the medical college in public health disciplines such as those described earlier under Objectives.
For research capacity building (or for further enhancing the research skills) of the faculty members, the Research Center offers short courses in:
- Basic concepts in biostatistics, epidemiology and demography
- Introduction to clinical and public health research methods
- Design and conduct of observational studies
- Clinical trials and experimental studies
- Operations research
- Data analysis using Epi-Info and SPSS for Windows
The Center also provides inputs in ongoing teaching of the medical students to strengthen the research skills component of their training. Simultaneously, the Research Center provides technical assistance for the Health Sciences Journal and facilitates the faculty in writing research articles for the journal.
An important function of the Research Center is to promote a research culture in the College and to motivate faculty members to design and conduct independent research. Qassim University’s Deanship of Research invites research proposals from the faculty members each year, to consider small grants for faculty-initiated small research projects. During 2007 and 2008, the Research Center conducted ‘proposal writing workshops’ for faculty of College of Medicine to prepare them to submit applications for research grants to the Deanship of Research. The faculty’s response to the annual call for research projects in 2008 (from the Deanship of Research, Qassim University) was overwhelming. A total of 43 research proposals were and 20 were accepted for funding. This comprised the highest number of proposals submitted and accepted by any college in the University. Many faculty members also submitted research proposals to outside funding agencies. In the following year, the number of submitted proposals increased to 63, out of which 27 were accepted for funding. Presently, more than 50 individual research projects are ongoing in the College and are in various stages of completion.
The College contributes to the University’s research journal (International Journal of Health Sciences, Qassim University) that attracts original research reports from the faculty members locally and also from outside the University.