Attracting health professional students to substance abuse research


  • Adina Kalet,

  • Colleen Gillespie,

  • Madeline A Naegle,

  • Frederick More

  • While the content is solely the authors’ responsibility, the project described was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R25DA022461).

Adina Kalet, Section of Primary Care, New York University School of Medicine, 550 First Avenue, BCD D401, New York, New York 10016, USA. Tel: 00 1 212 263 1137; Fax: 00 1 212 263 8234; E-mail:

Context and setting It is a national priority to expand the development of clinical substance abuse (SA) research, but little is known about how to attract health care professionals to careers in this area.

Why the idea was necessary The goal of the Substance Abuse Research Education and Training (SARET) curriculum is to engage novice graduate health professional students (i.e. nursing, dentistry and medicine students) in considering SA research careers through participation in a educational theory-based core curriculum of eight web-based, rich media modules and stipend-supported mentored research experiences.

What was done We piloted the first 30-minute, web-based activation module entitled ‘Investigators needed’ to pique learners’ interest in enroling in SARET. The module introduces participants to cutting-edge SA research by showcasing four filmed interviews with nationally recognised, National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded researchers. The investigators discuss their work and some of the areas involved, including: determining relapse risk factors; the role of alcoholism in HIV; using brain imaging to understand addiction in adolescents, and the challenges of human subjects SA research. In parallel, participants are introduced to the principles of sound research question design through application of the patient/population, intervention, comparison and outcome (PICO) formula.

Module design features are based on principles of adult learning (i.e. self-directed learning, goal- and relevance-oriented learning), multimedia theory (i.e. dual channel, limiting cognitive load, utilising interactivity), social network theory (i.e. forums for discussion) and cognitive principles (i.e. visual imagery, mnemonics and chunking). The module is built into the open-source, web-based program called Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) and delivered through the digital learning management system employed at the respective health professional school.

Evaluation of results and impact In our pilot of Year 2 and 3 dentistry students, 376 of 378 students completed the module and 277 completed the online survey sent out afterwards (74% response rate). Students reported being more interested (‘somewhat’ and ‘very interested’) in SA research after viewing the module than before (57% versus 22%). Students stated that the video and cutting-edge research questions (74%), quiz questions (72%), presentation of content (70%) and PICO principles (68%) helped (‘some’ to ‘a lot’) them understand key elements of SA research. A total of 37% of the students actively discussed the module content in the online forums. Lastly, 35% of students requested more SARET programme information and 60% stated they wanted more information about the cutting-edge research questions presented (i.e. methodological design, preliminary results, outcome measures).

These preliminary findings will inform the development and evaluation of the remaining seven modules of the SARET curriculum. In the coming year, the researchers will track the extent to which this module motivates enrolment in the SARET programme and compare data on those who do and do not enrol in order to identify the factors that predict participation in mentored research programmes.