Students 4 Best Evidence: the future of evidence based healthcare
Students 4 Best Evidence (S4BE) is a project set up by the Cochrane Centre. It consists of a growing network of students from a variety of disciplines from around the world who are interested in evidence based healthcare (EBH). We interviewed Martin Burton, director of UK Cochrane Centre, and David Carroll, medical student at Queen’s University Belfast, about the project. Martin is also a consultant otolaryngologist at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, and a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Oxford. David is one of S4BE’s contributors and editors, an avid tweeter, cat fan, and one of the founders of the Open Access Button (www.openaccessbutton.org).
What is S4BE?
Martin Burton: One of the key things about S4BE is that it is designed for students in any healthcare discipline, or potentially for students studying a non-healthcare discipline. So although we started out working with medical students, we’re hoping that nursing students, physiotherapy students, pharmacy students, etcetera will be interested. For example, we’ve recently had a blog from a post-doctoral chemistry student who’s now got an interest in EBH. We want abroad a range of students as possible to be involved.
Why was the project set up?
MB: It’s part of Cochrane UK’s engagement project, trying to get students to engage with EBH in general, and we thought that this was the best way to try and impact on students. The young staff I have around me here at the Cochrane Centre have all these technological methods—they blog and tweet and do all sorts of exciting things, so a project like S4BE seemed like the obvious way to go. We found people like David, who said “yes, this is the way we ought to do it.”
Do you find it a challenge to get students to be interested in EBM?
David Carroll: If this was two years ago, I’d find it difficult to get interested because of the way we were taught EBH at my medical school. I found it hard to engage with and to learn about, but then about a year ago, I had what I like to call my “EBH epiphany” and became passionate about it. And so, it might be a difficult subject, but times are changing.
MB: EBH has been around for a long time, and originally there were a few evangelists who were trying to promote it in something of a desert. But evidence based everything seems to be more popular now. If you listen to the Today programme, people—whether they’re talking about health or criminology or social justice—will talk about an evidence base, and I think that helps. I think that out there in the healthcare community, people now do ask the question, “what’s the evidence base; where is the evidence?” Twenty years ago, we taught students about EBH, but they didn’t necessarily see people doing it or talking about it when they went on the wards and in the consulting room, whereas now they do because it is all around them. I think it’s timely that EBM is being promoted in this way. I hope so anyway.
What do you think that projects like S4BE have the power to do?
MB: When you asked the question, a rather grandiose answer sprang to mind: S4BE has the power to save lives. Or rather, we hope to have the power to influence people to save lives. I’ve been very much influenced by my great friend and mentor Iain Chalmers, and when Iain talks about his journey along this road, he begins by saying that the essence of evidence based practice is to do more good than harm, and to avoid killing or damaging people by giving them treatments that don’t work or do harm to them. If we can encourage students to not only practise in this way, but also to ask their teachers and trainers to justify what they are suggesting or proposing to patients, then that will be all to the good.
What’s next for the project?
MB: We’d love to see more students using and contributing to the site. I should say that David and his colleagues have been fantastic in the work that they’ve done. At Cochrane UK we’ve seen S4BE as something we want to support students in doing, rather than anything that we were going to run and manage ourselves, so I will regard it as being a success when students have complete ownership of it, and can run with it and keep it going for themselves.
We’re already talking about pushing the age limit for contributors down. When we think of healthcare students we think of people in their late teens and early twenties, but in fact there’s no reason why younger students couldn’t and shouldn’t be interested in it. We’re working with Iain Chalmers and the James Lind Initiative on his venture called Testing Treatments interactive, to try and promote this among younger children as well.
DC: S4BE is giving students ownership of the system that they will inherit. I’ve been to a few conferences and big meetings where I’ve been one of the few students in the room. This is because the organisers haven’t really engaged the students, whereas Cochrane UK knows that students are the future and are engaging with students like me all around the world because it will be up to us in 20 years’ time to take EBM forward.
MB: I hope it doesn’t take you 20 years to qualify, David.Katy Bettany, editor, Student BMJ, Matthew Billingsley, digital engagement editor, BMJ,
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2013;21:f7455