For our first post in our “From the Flex Files” blog series, we chat with Karol Boschung from the IMP program (Class of 2021). He shares his experience conducting rapid literature reviews on COVID-19 for researchers and clinicians on the frontline!
Tell us a little bit about your research project.
I am working with the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Synthesis Team (what a mouthful!). Basically, I’m part of a team of medical students and other volunteers that are working with VCH to research and write literature reviews on COVID-19 related topics. The questions we seek to answer are submitted by researchers and clinicians and generally have a 3-4 day turnaround time. I have really enjoyed trying to get a grasp on a field of information and summarizing it accurately in a short time, all while trying to keep in mind the many “known unkowns” and “unknown unknowns” that currently run all the way through our understanding of COVID-19.
What do you find interesting in this field of research? How did you initially get involved?
Our curriculum has been quite shaken up due to the current pandemic situation, and as part of the curriculum restructuring, next year’s FLEX period was moved forward to this summer. While looking for a FLEX project that was possible to do remotely, I came across this opportunity. It really appealed to me, as it was a chance to both increase my skills in reviewing the medical literature, as well as hopefully playing a small part in the fight against COVID-19.
What does a typical day look like while working on your project?
I’m not always working on a review, but when I am, the days are pretty full, given the quick turnaround time these rapid reviews require (3-4 days). Usually the first day is filled with building my search and compiling my literature database. On the second day, I look through abstracts and full-text articles to see what is relevant, and on the third and fourth days, I am writing and editing my review. Sometimes these projects are done in isolation, and sometimes they are done together with a teammate.
What part of this experience has been most meaningful to you?
I’ve really enjoyed being a part of something that is so closely related to the on-the-ground situation, and being able to keep a foot in the medical world while waiting for my schooling to restart. However, one of the biggest things I’ve noticed has been the sheer amount of revision, retraction, extrapolation, and contrary data that is being published every day. Obviously, this pandemic presents us with a unique situation where a pressing and urgent threat is pushing research to occur at a breakneck pace. It has been enlightening to see first-hand something I previously only knew in theory: science is a process! Our understanding is constantly evolving, and the current consensus is always subject to revision. It certainly makes me reflect about what it will mean to practice evidence-based medicine in a world saturated with data that mostly has an expiry date! This may be a little abstract (and as a philosophy major that appeals to me!) but I think this is actually a crucial insight about the nature of science that should really impact the way we approach our practice.