PEER Provides Summer Students with a Unique Learning Opportunity

Three medical students learn from a nationally-recognized evidence-based medicine research team.

Danica Erickson - 18 August 2020

In May of 2020, University of Alberta medical students Logan Sept, Michael Wollin and Rodger Craig joined the Patients-Evidence-Experience-Research (PEER) team as summer research students. Each arrived with a different research or medical interest: Sept loves research that defies conventional wisdom and practice, Wollin is interested in primary care, particularly mental health, and Craig has diverse medical and research interests extending to health systems and policy. All three have had the opportunity to explore their interests and more with PEER, which is a nationally-recognized evidence-based medicine research team committed to making evidence accessible to all primary care providers .  

Sept found out about PEER at a Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG) lunch talk and was intrigued about the way they simplify complicated information to make precise tools for family doctors to take into their practices. He also admired that they are a group of family physicians that do research for family physician instead of specialists writing guidelines for family physicians. Craig became aware of PEER in 2018 when he became familiar with the Prescribing Medical Cannabinoids in Primary Care Simplified Guidelines. Subsequent PEER presentations in medical school classes and his attendance at an evidence-based medicine forum, where he had the chance to speak with PEER team member Dr. Tina Korownyk, further piqued his interest. Wollin attended the Practical Evidence for Informed Practice conference (PEIP) in October of 2019, and it was there that he found out about the possibility of working with PEER directly from the team members at that conference . “I ended up sitting at the table with the PEER Team members who were kind enough to share information about the work they do and how they accept summer students”.  Craig, Wollin and Sept will get experience working on two activities key to PEER’s work to support evidence-based primary care: systematic reviews and the creation of Tools for Practice. 

Systematic reviews are multiple-step reviews of research sources relevant to a specific research question and specific criteria. Wollin explains that his work “entails performing ‘title & abstract’ and ‘full-text’ screening of an article database to find the articles that are relevant to the research question. We have a series of inclusion and exclusion criteria to help determine whether or not we can use the data for the systemic review”.  Craig will be working on a systematic review and meta-analysis examining the effectiveness of various treatments for neuropathic pain, the results of which will be used to develop treatment guidelines for neuropathic pain in primary care.  

PEER uses systematic reviews because although they are in-depth and time-consuming, t heir results are highly reliable. It turns out that doing good research is actually very difficult” says Sept, who is using an online software tool called Covidence to help with screening studies for two different systematic reviews.

Tools for Practice, the second activity the students worked on, are the most popular of PEER’s initiatives, with a distribution number of almost 39,000. Tools for Practice are bi-weekly articles, often co-written by students, focussed on current primary care issues of concern to the practice community. Craig worked on a tool summarizing the evidence around the effectiveness of pramipexole in treating restless legs syndrome. Sept worked on a paper that will report upon various statistics about the tools for practice that PEER publishes such as conflicts of interest and the specialties of the authors that write them and is also involved in writing a Tool for Practice on virtual care.

Sept, Wollin and Craig’s research work was serious, but they also had exposure to some serious creativity. PEER is well-known for their unique and user-friendly approach to disseminating information and these students will have a front-row seat to the creation of information dissemination tools using a variety of formats. “ They are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to make high quality information available to care providers (and patients) in accessible formats, whether as a podcast, online calculator, Tool for Practice, info-graphic, lunch-talk, conference, or manuscript” says Craig.

One thing that is very clear from all three of these learners is that PEER offered a supportive environment in which to learn about research and clinical applications of research. “My experience with the PEER team have been incredibly beneficial to my own learning, growth, and professional development” says Craig . Logan agrees, adding “It’s nice to see a group like PEER becoming leaders in medical research in pushing for unbiased research that is free of conflicts of interest and is done by the people who are actually treating the patients”.

Following their summer of research with PEER, Wollin will continue on to a rural family medicine clerkship and then back to Edmonton for the remainder of the academic year, Craig will begin a year of clerkship in a rural Alberta community, and Sept will begin his second year of medical school. “It will be interesting to see what medical school looks like during a pandemic in the following months” he says. Whatever their future medical training brings, their experiences with PEER means they will be well-prepared to meet the challenges.