Clinical Center IPPCR course brings research training to war zone
For medical staff and students here, attending an NIH Clinical Center course might mean facing challenges like bad weather, metro breakdowns or heavy traffic. But medical students and physicians in Syria have to brave a war zone to attend an educational program offered by the NIH Clinical Center.
The Clinical Center's Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Clinical Research (IPPCR) course is designed to train participants on how to effectively and safely conduct clinical research by focusing on research best practices. With over 5,000 participants worldwide, the course is viewed in 40 different countries from 237 registered remote sites. Two of those sites are located in Syria at Damascus University [disclaimer] in the Syrian capital of Damascus and at the University of Tishreen in the Syrian city of Latakia.
According to the U.S. State Department, Syria [disclaimer] has been in an armed conflict since 2011 when the Syrian government responded with force to peaceful demonstrators. The toll has been devastating, with an estimated 400,000 people killed, 4.8 million fleeing the country and 6.5 million people being internally displaced.
"Due to the unfortunate circumstances in Syria, online education has become Syrian students' main source of obtaining wider knowledge and learning opportunities," explained Ibrahem Hanafi and Tarek Turk, two sixth-year medical students at Damascus University.
For the 2016-2017 course, there are over 60 registered participants at Damascus University, some from massively damaged cities such as Aleppo, Syria. As life for students in Syria is becoming increasing difficult, the IPPCR course has been a lifeline to the outside world.
Hanafi outlined why the IPPCR was so important. "In Syria, students are rarely exposed to research in their years of study. We have had very few scientists and researchers, most of them fled the war, which left us with no one to teach us anything or even to mentor our work."
At the University of Tishreen, 69 participants, mostly medical students along with a few residents and physicians, have registered in the IPPCR class. Some students have been so inspired by their coursework that they have already started designing their own research projects such as a large-scale quality improvement research aimed at boosting hand hygiene.
Although enthusiasm is high, Syrian students face many challenges. Due to the war, overcrowded living spaces and economic difficulties have become real problems, along with frequent power outages which make online learning very difficult.
Despite the challenges, participants at the University of Tishreen persevere by holding group discussions to help understand the course materials. The students also gather at places with generators so they can continue their online studies during power outages.
For this academic year, the IPPCR course began in September 2016 and closes in May 2017. The program is self-paced, and local sites set their own schedules for watching the lectures.
There will be a final examination given online during April. Those who score 75% or higher will receive a certificate indicating they successfully completed the course and passed the final examination.
For the students in Syria, this is just one small part of what they are hoping to accomplish.
"Every time we leave our homes to learn, to work, we know we might not come back. However, despite the destruction, we have made the decision not to submit to our circumstances and to keep fighting for our future," said Hanafi of Damascus University.
The IPPCR course is developed and administered by the Clinical Center's Office of Clinical Research Training and Medical Education.