Case study writing for Medicine course: Things you should remember

Medical school is anything but easy. With the changes being proposed for the future who knows what new standards and regulations will be in place. As it is, there are many hurdles and obstacles that need to be undertaken for medical research. One i not dotted, or t not crossed, can make the validity of your research completely null and void. For good reason, medical research on human subjects is highly regulated. That is why it seems to take so long for new medicines and procedures to pass through the FDA and other medical regulatory agencies. If you are doing a case study for your class, it is good practice for your eventual career in medical research.

What is a case study?

A case study is something that is usually used in the field of life sciences, medical science or life sciences. It is something that is performed in research to try to get an understanding of how, and why, a certain population, person, group or event occurs. It is a study that is performed to find etiology of certain cause and effects. The objective of any case study is to find the underlying cause of a specific cause. A case study may be performed in two different ways either retrospectively or prospectively. In a retrospective case study, historical records are used and the criteria is well established prior to the study beginning. In prospective case studies, the criteria is established at the beginning and the cases are selected to fit the criteria which is being studied.

How are case studies used in medical research?

A case study for the purposes of medical research can be done both retrospectively or prospectively.
An example of a retrospective case study is when you choose people who have developed diabetes and then work backwards to find out their history. You would do so by taking those who have developed diabetes and asking them about their habits, their diet and their medical history.
A prospective case study would be when you choose people in a certain age group, say 2 year olds, and follow them for 30 years to see who among them develops diabetes. You would record their diets, habits and medical history along the continuum of time that you choose to follow them.

When will you be asked to do a case study

You will most likely be asked to do a case study somewhere in your course work. Many medical theories and results are those which come from case studies. You will be using them often to find cause and etiology of certain diseases and to aid in how you teach your future patients prevention for disease. They are the gold standard for finding ways to prevent many diseases by identifying those things that are the direct cause of disease. An example of those cause and effects which have been studied through case studies are:
  • Smoking and heart disease
  • Obesity and diabetes
  • Smoking and cancer

When choosing a case study

If you are asked to do a case study in your coursework the best way to start is by choosing a cause and effect relationship that you want to demonstrate. If you believe that one thing causes another, a case study is what you would use to prove it. There are many things to remember when choosing a case study to begin:
  • Choose a cause and effect that is short lived - since you won't have 3 years to do your case study, finding a quick cause and effect is important
  • Commit to a clear hypothesis such as "this causes this"
  • Try to limit any confounding variable. A confounding variable is something that will interfere with the integrity of one thing causing another. It is a third thing that can be cause one or the other. For instance, if you wanted to show that lifting weights makes you stronger then you would want to choose participants that didn't perform other exercise like a soccer player, or a basketball player. It is important to choose participants who are equal to study.
  • If you can't prove your cause and effect, do not change your hypothesis. It is just as important to prove that a cause doesn't exist as to prove it does. Often scientists make the mistake of thinking that only causal relationships hold validity. It is just important to prove that one thing does not have a causal relationship on another
  • Keep it small - choosing a small sample size is a good place to start. Choosing one that is too large will be much more difficult to work with
A case study is something that the medical field uses to show cause and effect. Although it is a type of experiment, it is also open to subjective interpretation. It is not as important to hold things constant as you do with other types of research, in fact, it is in the variation of subjects where you find the richness of data. If you are asked to conduct your own case study it is important that you choose a hypothesis that you know is strong and can be proven, or disproven. Often times, there is no clear hypothesis statement which in the end makes it more difficult to make sense of the data you have collected.
You are not going to be conducting a case study that is going to go down in the medical journals. You professor is just looking to make sure that you understand the process and complexity of a case study, so keep it simple. Don't go overboard with your participant size, or overall case study target. Keeping it manageable is the best way to demonstrate your proficiency with the process of case studies in general.
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