The selection and inclusion of students as research participants in undergraduate medical student projects at the School of Medicine, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa, 2002 - 2017: An ethical perspective
Background. University of the Free State (UFS), Bloemfontein, South Africa undergraduate medical students perform a research project as part of their training. These projects frequently include students as participants. This could be seen as targeting convenient populations who are potentially vulnerable, raising ethical concerns.
Objectives. To review the selection and inclusion of students as research participants in undergraduate medical student projects at the School of Medicine, UFS, 2002 - 2017, to assess ethical conduct.
Methods. For this descriptive study all undergraduate medical student projects from 2002 to 2017 were screened for the inclusion of any type of student as participant (458 projects). Information was obtained from research protocols and final reports.
Results. Fifty-seven student projects (12.4%; range 0% (2002) - 26.9% (2017)) included students as participants. Participants were mainly undergraduate medical students (50.9% of the 57 projects) or undergraduate residence students (24.6%). In 86.7% of projects with participating medical students, there was evidence of literature or subject motivation for this choice, compared with 42.9% of projects that included undergraduate residence students. Recruitment was mostly done in class (43.4%) by student researchers (84.9%). No incentives for participation were offered (90.6%). Participation generally followed directly after recruitment (58.5%). In 63.2% of projects, anonymous questionnaires were used.
Conclusions. The percentage of undergraduate medical student projects that included students as participants increased during the study period, and may necessitate some form of scheduling of researchers’ contact with students. The selection and inclusion of students as research participants appear to be ethically acceptable, with the possible exception of undergraduate residence students.
G Joubert, Department of Biostatistics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
W J Steinberg, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
L J van der Merwe, Undergraduate Programme Management, School of Clinical Medicine, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
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Date published: 2019-06-28
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