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Research in Medicine (RIM) program celebrates 10‑years

Posted by Kate Rogers on September 20, 2023 in News

When Dr. Jeremy Slayter was in medical school, he thought he would have a career in neurology. But an innovative Dalhousie program soon changed his trajectory. 

The Research in Medicine program, now in its tenth year, is a longitudinal and self-directed course where students learn about research, and design and develop a research project over the course of their undergraduate studies. A requirement for graduation, the goal of RIM is to instill a high level of critical thinking and create a culture of inquiry among learners.

“It’s really been a great addition to the excellent curriculum and education experience we have at Dalhousie,” says Dr. David Anderson, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.  “We’re very proud to see all that our students have achieved with it and excited to see what’s next with the RIM projects of tomorrow.”

Dr. Slayter, who is a 2023 Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick (DMNB) graduate, is now a first-year resident in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. His RIM project helped develop a passion and understanding that changed the course of his studies.  

“My RIM project really opened the door and got me a lot more exposure to what neurology and its associated specialties really look like,” says Dr. Slayter. “That’s really what led me to physical medicine and rehab.”

A world of curiosity 

The first of its kind in Canada, RIM was originally conceptualized to ensure students met both accreditation requirements and Dalhousie Medicine’s Educational Outcomes, which define competencies students would be expected to exhibit prior to graduation, by fulfilling the role of scholar and lifelong learner. Ideally, through participation in RIM, graduates will be inspired to continue their involvement in research throughout their professional careers. 

Though the program has evolved over the years, what has been constant is the agency students have to pursue research in an area that they feel passionate about. 

“I think that one of the real strengths of RIM is that there's space for different ways of thinking, and different areas of interest,” says Dr. Anna MacLeod, RIM Unit Head and Chair of the RIM Committee. “Over the years we have had everything from bench research that takes place in the lab, to people who have taken on social justice projects, and everything in between.”

Building lasting relationships

The RIM program requires an enormous level of support from faculty and staff at Dalhousie and is generously supported by many donors.  For the last 10 years, many alumni and friends of the Faculty of Medicine have been inspired to invest in the RIM program by establishing an endowed fund to support one or more students each year. The RIM program provides $5,000 in funding to each student to offset the costs of research efforts. Donors enjoy learning about the student’s research project and seeing their philanthropic investment in action.

Kirby Putnam (Dal BEng ‘89) endowed the Dr. Andrew Putnam RIM Studentship in Mental Health Research in 2019 in honour of his late brother, Dr. Andrew Putnam (MD ‘93). He is grateful to see the endowment fund inspiring and supporting aspiring medical professionals on their journey.  

“Every year, as we eagerly anticipate the projects our RIM recipients choose to pursue, it reaffirms our commitment to expanding knowledge in the realm of mental health,” says Kirby. “Through the impact of our philanthropy, we are making a meaningful difference.”

Each RIM student is paired with a mentor who acts as their primary supervisor and guides them through the research process. They are also assigned a RIM Director, who assists in navigating the program and monitors and approves student progress.

Dr. Beata Derfalvi is the Division Head of Pediatric Immunology and a RIM mentor. When she arrived at Dalhousie 10 years ago, she quickly recognized the value of RIM, and became involved as a mentor. 

“It’s an excellent addition to medical education,” she says. “It’s a very fruitful, mutual collaboration between the mentors and mentees, enriching research and research productivity within the Dalhousie community.” 

When student and mentor match and mesh, through support and encouragement, an incredibly meaningful relationship develops, and filters into many different aspects of the undergrad experience. According to Dr. MacLeod, it’s a highlight of the program. 

“A constant piece of feedback we receive is that the relationship people build with their mentor is one of the most meaningful outcomes of RIM.”

Lifelong learners

Dr. MacLeod, who has graduate training in education, and has been involved in RIM since its inception, says part of her work as Unit Head is to ensure that the program is grounded in solid educational principles. 

“Everyone involved has an appreciation of research and why it matters, and how it can be integrated into a career,” she says. “But we wanted to make sure that we were really building an educational program that that gives learners what they need to succeed.”

And succeed they have. One hundred per cent of student projects have been presented, including some at national and international meetings. A significant number of these students also published their work.

In the span of a decade, the Research in Medicine program has made remarkable strides, garnering widespread recognition for its achievements and captivating the enthusiasm of both students and faculty. With a recent update to the undergraduate curriculum, RIM has been given more time in the student schedule. RIM’s success is a testament to the dedicated individuals who pour their efforts into the program day after day, and their unwavering commitment is mirrored in the accomplishments of our students.