Undergraduate pharmacy students' perception and understanding of the importance of research in Jamshoro, Sindh

Volume 2
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Pages 1-8
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2023
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Abstract

Pharmacy education is evolving worldwide to meet the changing role of pharmacists in providing pharmaceutical care services. Engagement in undergraduate research helps students develop analytical and critical thinking skills that are crucial for their future careers. It is essential to equip pharmacy students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and motivation to engage in research and apply innovative findings to clinical practice. Therefore, this study was conducted to determine the value of research among undergraduate pharmacy students and to understand their perceptions of its importance and challenges. The study was conducted over three months and involved 384 students from two different public sector universities in Jamshoro, Sindh. A convenient sampling technique was used, and data were collected from fourth- and final-year students at the targeted universities. The results of the study revealed that 53.39% of the participants were male and 46.61% were female. A total of 78.65% were between the ages of 21 and 23 years, with 54.69% from urban areas and 39.06% from rural areas. Of the 384 students, 96% considered research valuable, while 85% disagreed with the notion that research is theoretical and has no benefit for the common person. Moreover, 67% of the students considered publishing in a peer-reviewed journal to be a good source of recognition. Regarding the benefits of research, 41% of students strongly agreed that it boosts their professional profile, while 37% strongly agreed that it helps in a pharmacy career. This study revealed that undergraduate students generally possess a good level of knowledge and understanding of research and recognize its future advantages. Moreover, many students expressed a strong interest in participating in undergraduate research projects, although they also identified challenges such as the need for supervision and resources. These findings suggest that there is potential for increased research engagement among students if the research environment is enhanced. Therefore, there is a need for academicians and policymakers to consider ways to support and improve the research opportunities and infrastructure for undergraduate students in universities.

Keywords

Pharmacy education; Student perceptions, Research importance; Undergraduate research

1. Introduction

COVID-19 has proven to be a revolution worldwide and has resulted in the origination of much research focused not only on microbes but also on multiple related social issues. It has also changed human thinking patterns. This surge in research has generated new knowledge, enhancing overall patient care and advancing healthcare sciences. The Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) are professional doctorates that traditionally prepare pharmacists for dispensing and compounding [1,2]. However, the role of pharmacists has shifted to providing pharmaceutical care services over the years [3]. Similarly, to meet advancements in the role trajectory of pharmacists, pharmacy education is evolving worldwide [4].

Research is a vital indicator of the scientific development and growth of a country [5,6]. Undergraduate research (UR) involves research conducted by undergraduate students, resulting in an original contribution to their discipline [7]. The benefits of research extend beyond building a successful career; gaining research experience also equips students with analytical and critical thinking skills, which are beneficial life skills [8,9]. Research experience has also been shown to improve decision-making skills among alumni [10]. Considering the benefits of undergraduate research, it is imperative to adequately equip pharmacy students and graduates with the necessary knowledge, skills, and motivation to engage in research and effectively apply the obtained results to clinical practice [7,11,12].

In Australia, fourth-year pharmacy students at The University of Sydney have the option to pursue honor research as part of their Bachelor of Pharmacy degree [13]. An Indian study conducted in 2022 revealed that the concept of 'students as partners' is an emerging trend in the Indian pharmacy system, encouraging undergraduate pharmacy students to participate in research projects as part of their curriculum, collaborating with faculty members as coresearchers [14]. A Pakistani study conducted in 2020 emphasized the importance of research for healthcare students [6]. However, another Pakistani study conducted in Karachi on pharmacy, medical, and dental students highlighted the lack of interest in research among students for reasons such as curriculum overload, difficulty finding a mentor, and lack of exposure [9].

Despite research courses and projects being integrated into pharmacy schools worldwide, there is a shortage of research opportunities for undergraduate pharmacy students in Jamshoro [15,16]. Research is a crucial component of undergraduate healthcare education because it helps develop a scientific mindset and promotes evidence-based practice. It equips students with the skills to analyze medical literature critically and make informed clinical decisions, adapting to the ever-changing landscape of healthcare. Moreover, undergraduate research fosters innovation and drives advancements in medical knowledge and technology, ultimately leading to better patient care outcomes. By engaging in research, undergraduates gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of healthcare, ethical considerations, and societal impacts, preparing them to tackle real-world health challenges with competence and compassion.

The primary objectives of this research study are to provide an overview of undergraduate pharmacy students' perceptions and understanding of research in Jamshoro, Sindh, Pakistan, and to assess the importance these students place on undergraduate research. Moreover, this study aimed to identify the perceived challenges and benefits of engaging in research among these students. The findings will help inform academicians and policymakers on how to enhance the research environment for undergraduate students in universities.

2. Material and methods

2.1. Study design

This descriptive cross-sectional study was conducted over a period of three months, from July to September 2023.

2.2. Ethical approval

This study adhered to international ethical guidelines for research involving humans and obtained ethical clearance from the Institutional Bioethics Committee (IBC) of the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, Pakistan (No. ORIC/SU/1645) [17].

2.3. Study setting

This research was conducted at two major public universities in Jamshoro, the University of Sindh and Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS). The University of Sindh is the oldest university in the country, with seven campuses, 60 teaching departments offering degrees in 121 disciplines, and 74 affiliated colleges, while LUMHS is the first public-sector medical university in Pakistan [18,19,20,21,22].

2.4. Participant recruitment

The study recruited fourth- and final-year undergraduate pharmacy students, excluding those in foreign quota seats or those unwilling to participate.

2.5. Sampling method

A convenient sampling technique was used to collect the data.

2.6. Sample size

The sample size was determined using the sample size calculator provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), considering a 5% margin of error and a 95% confidence interval. Based on the student populations at the two institutions, the initial sample size was calculated to be 354, which was further increased to 384 to ensure a safe margin.

2.7. Study measures

The questionnaire, validated by experts, consisted of three sections: sociodemographics, students' perceptions of research, and students' understanding of the importance of research. The perception and understanding sections were adapted from a previous study with some modifications [11]. A pretest was conducted on six students to assess the questionnaire's difficulty level and comprehension.

In the sociodemographic section, information was gathered on gender, university name, age, professional year (4th year, 5th year), and area of residence (urban, rural, semiurban, or semirural). Students' opinions about research were collected using a 25-item questionnaire with responses on a three-point scale ('yes', 'no', 'maybe'). Students' understanding of the importance of research was assessed using a 15-item Likert scale questionnaire with responses ranging from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree.'

2.8. Data collection

The sample size was determined using the sample size calculator provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), considering a 5% margin of error and a 95% confidence interval. Based on the student populations at the two institutions, the initial sample size was calculated to be 354, which was further increased to 384 to ensure a safe margin.

2.9. Statistical analysis

The data were analyzed using SPSS v25.00 (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, USA) to calculate frequencies and percentages.

3. Results

Table 1 shows that the University of Sindh accounted for the major proportion of respondents (82.29%), with the remaining (17.71%) representing students from LUMHS. More than half of the respondents were male (53.39%), while 46.61% were female. The majority of students were within the 21–23 years age bracket (78.65%). A greater proportion of students resided in urban areas (54.69%) and rural areas (39.06%), while a smaller proportion lived in semiurban (4.69%) and semirural (1.56%) areas.

Table 1. Demographic and academic attributes of undergraduate pharmacy students (N = 384).
Characteristics Frequency (%)
Age 18 – 20 years 25 (6.51)
21 – 23 years 302 (78.65)
24 – 26 years 57 (14.84)
Gender Male 205 (53.39)
Female 179 (46.61)
Institution University of Sindh 316 (82.29)
LUMHS 68 (17.71)
Professional year 4th year 273 (71.09)
5th year 111 (28.91)
Residential area Urban 210 (54.69)
Rural 150 (39.06)
Semiurban 18 (4.69)
Semirural 6 (1.56)

Table 2 delineates the perceptions of undergraduate pharmacy students regarding research. Most students (96.09%) perceived research as valuable, while a significant proportion (71.35%) believed that research could only be conducted in a laboratory. Moreover, 61.98% of the students did not perceive undergraduate research as a burden, with 11.72% viewing it negatively and 26.30% expressing uncertainty. Most respondents stated that research contributes to existing knowledge and information (85.16%) and helps in policy development (74.74%). However, 83.07% disagreed that research is useless due to the advancement of artificial intelligence. Furthermore, 84.90% disagreed that the research is only theoretical and has no practical benefit.

Table 2. Undergraduate research: overall perceptions of pharmacy students (N = 384).
Variables Yes (%) No (%) Maybe (%)
Research is valuable in the field of pharmacy 369 (96.09) 10 (2.60) 5 (1.30)
Undergraduate research is a burden on students 45 (11.72) 238 (61.98) 101 (26.30)
Research is only conducted by postgraduate students 83 (21.61) 239 (62.24) 62 (16.15)
Conducting research requires a lot of money 150 (39.06) 106 (27.60) 128 (33.33)
Conducting research requires a laboratory 274 (71.35) 39 (10.16) 71 (18.49)
Conducting research requires a supervisor 299 (77.86) 23 (5.99) 62 (16.15)
Research cannot be conducted without a university 147 (38.28) 140 (36.46) 97 (25.26)
Research is useless due to advancements in Artificial Intelligence 38 (9.90) 319 (83.07) 27 (7.03)
No need for research because Google has all the information 44 (11.46) 303 (78.91) 37 (9.64)
Public organizations usually conduct research 105 (27.34) 177 (46.09) 102 (26.56)
Research in pharmacy is saturated 152 (39.58) 150 (39.06) 82 (21.35)
Research was completed ages ago by well-known scientists 129 (33.59) 204 (53.13) 51 (13.28)
Research can only be performed by males 8 (2.08) 370 (96.35) 6 (1.56)
Research is useless because it is only theoretical and has no practical benefit 26 (6.77) 326 (84.90) 32 (8.33)
Research cannot be performed in rural/semirural areas 67 (17.45) 252 (65.63) 65 (16.93)
Research contributes to existing knowledge and information 327 (85.16) 39 (10.16) 18 (4.69)
Research contributes to policymaking 287 (74.74) 37 (9.64) 60 (15.63)
Research papers can only be published by postgraduate students 118 (30.73) 199 (51.82) 67 (17.45)
Publishing undergraduate research in a journal is a good source of recognition 261 (67.97) 38 (9.90) 85 (22.14)

Table 2 further shows that the majority considered publishing in a peer-reviewed journal to be a good source of recognition (67.97%) and disagreed that research can only be conducted by postgraduate students (62.24%) or that research cannot be performed in rural settings (65.63%). Approximately one-quarter of the students were uncertain about whether undergraduate research is a burden (26.30%), whether research cannot be conducted without a university (25.26%), and whether only public sector organizations conduct research (26.56%).

Table 3 illustrates the students' understanding of the importance of research. Most participants strongly agreed that research boosts their professional profile (40.89%), helps in their pharmacy career (36.98%), aids in job promotions (33.85%), increases their personal impact factor (30.99%), assists in securing international scholarships (33.07%), and helps in obtaining admissions for higher studies (31.25%). Additionally, a majority of participants agreed that they precisely understood the meaning of research (65.89%) and were well aware of research operations (48.18%). Research was perceived as beneficial for their pharmacy career (55.73%), securing admissions for higher studies (55.47%), obtaining international scholarships (53.65%), job promotions (52.86%), and boosting their professional profile (51.04%). However, fewer than half of the participants disagreed with having participated in any research project without university support (44.79%). A significant portion of students had not taken part in research projects with university support (30.73%) or had received assignments related to research (27.34%).

Table 3. Students' understanding of the importance of research (N = 384).
Variables Strongly Agree (%) Agree (%)
Neutral (%)
Disagree (%)
Agree (%)
I understand precisely what research means 83 (21.61) 253 (65.89) 44 (11.46) 3 (0.78) 1 (0.26)
I am well aware of research operations 50 (13.02) 185 (48.18) 110 (28.65) 38 (9.9) 1 (0.26)
I know the types of research 34 (8.85) 165 (42.97) 115 (29.95) 63 (16.41) 7 (1.82)
I have participated in research without university support 19 (4.95) 83 (21.61) 75 (19.53) 172 (44.79) 35 (9.11)
My faculty has discussed the importance of research 58 (15.1) 167 (43.49) 60 (15.63) 68 (17.71) 31 (8.07)
I have received assignments related to research 42 (10.94) 135 (35.16) 74 (19.27) 105 (27.34) 28 (7.29)
I have participated in research with university support 33 (8.59) 129 (33.59) 61 (15.89) 118 (30.73) 43 (11.2)
I am confident in my scientific writing skills 32 (8.33) 163 (42.45) 126 (32.81) 48 (12.5) 15 (3.91)
Research can help in my pharmacy career 142 (36.98) 214 (55.73) 22 (5.73) 3 (0.78) 3 (0.78)
Research helps increase my personal impact factor 119 (30.99) 230 (59.9) 30 (7.81) 3 (0.78) 2 (0.52)
Research helps me get admission to higher studies 120 (31.25) 213 (55.47) 41 (10.68) 8 (2.08) 2 (0.52)
Research helps me achieve an international scholarship 127 (33.07) 206 (53.65) 38 (9.9) 11 (2.86) 2 (0.52)
Research will help me obtain a local scholarship 82 (21.35) 192 (50) 81 (21.09) 23 (5.99) 6 (1.56)
Research experience will boost my professional profile 157 (40.89) 196 (51.04) 20 (5.21) 8 (2.08) 3 (0.78)
Research helps me get job promotions 130 (33.85) 203 (52.86) 39 (10.16) 10 (2.6) 2 (0.52)

4. Discussion

This study revealed several key findings regarding the perceptions and understanding of research among undergraduate pharmacy students in Sindh. The majority of students considered research valuable and believed it contributes significantly to existing knowledge and policy development. A considerable number of students also recognized the professional benefits of research, such as enhancing their career prospects, aiding in job promotions, and securing scholarships.

The results of the current study align with findings from a randomized controlled trial on undergraduate students, which indicated that students involved in research courses had a better understanding of research and performed well in such courses [23]. Similarly, a study in China revealed that research training helped students develop multiple research competencies and perform better in research-based courses than in theoretical courses [24]. Additional studies have shown that teaching research-based courses significantly impacts students' understanding, skill development, and performance [25,26,27].

In contrast, some studies have reported different outcomes. For instance, a study on undergraduate medical students in Jordan revealed that while students had positive attitudes toward research, their knowledge and understanding were limited, although they increased with increasing professional years [28]. A study on undergraduate engineering students suggested that while research programs are effective teaching tools, they may not be compelling enough to influence students' career choices or pursuit of higher education [29]. Another study in the United States assessing the impact of undergraduate research programs on diverse groups showed that students gained research-related knowledge and skills, but the impact varied significantly across different groups, including gender differences [30].

Challenges in undergraduate research programs include a lack of student knowledge, preparedness, and faculty resources, as well as the need for tailored mentoring approaches for underrepresented students [31]. Despite these challenges, undergraduate research holds great potential for teaching valuable skills beyond the academic environment. Effective research programs should complement university education throughout the entire course of study, emphasizing rigor, academic integrity, and responsible research conduct [32]. Addressing the gaps in research models used across various disciplines is essential for improving student comprehension and research capabilities [33].

This study provides baseline information on undergraduate students' research orientation by targeting two major public sector universities in Sindh, opening the horizon for further exploration in regional contexts. The findings serve as a basis for policymakers, educators, and academicians to consider integrating research courses at the undergraduate level. The strengths of this study include its focus on senior undergraduate students and its potential implications for educational policy. However, limitations include the exclusion of comparisons among different student groups and the lack of qualitative analysis.

5. Conclusions

This study revealed that undergraduate pharmacy students generally possess a good level of knowledge and understanding of research and are well aware of its future benefits. Moreover, many students expressed a strong interest in participating in undergraduate research projects, although they also identified challenges such as the need for supervision and resources. These findings suggest a significant potential for increased research engagement among students if the research environment is enhanced. Therefore, there is a crucial need for academicians and policymakers to consider ways to support and improve research opportunities and infrastructure for undergraduate students in universities. By doing so, they can ensure that students are better equipped with the necessary skills and motivation to engage in research and apply innovative findings to clinical practice, ultimately contributing to the advancement of pharmacy education and healthcare services.

Author contributions

Conceptualization, UF; methodology, UF, LK, and NB; software, UF, LK, and NB; validation, UF, LK, and NB; formal analysis, LK; investigation, UF, LK, and NB; resources, UF, LK, and NB; data curation, UF, LK, and NB; writing—original draft preparation, LK, and NB; writing—review and editing, UF; visualization, UF, LK, and NB; supervision, UF; project administration, UF, LK, and NB. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Publication history

Received Revised Accepted Published
08 August 2023 16 October 2023 21 October 2023 18 November 2023

Funding

This research received no specific grant from the public, commercial, or not-for-profit funding agencies.

Ethics statement

This study obtained ethical clearance from the Institutional Bioethics Committee (IBC) of the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, Pakistan (No. ORIC/SU/1645).

Consent to participate

Written informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to data collection.

Data availability

The data supporting this study’s findings are available from the corresponding author, Unzila, upon reasonable request.

Acknowledgments

None.

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Copyright

© 2023 The Author(s). This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) License. The use, distribution, or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Publisher's note

Logixs Journals remains neutral concerning jurisdictional claims in its published subject matter, including maps and institutional affiliations.

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