Research - Why do it?
It benefits society
It would be stating the obvious that research benefits society in general, and the altruism underlying this reason may be the last one many of us embark on research, whether in medicine or pure science. Nevertheless, it is worth reiterating that research, whether basic or applied, is the most important means of adding to our knowledge of ageing, disease and the individual. Consequently, if you do good quality research you will have a real influence on clinical practice - even if this influence seems several steps down the line. Additionally, as a research-trained clinician, you have the opportunity to make sure that ongoing research is useful and relevant to the care of older people.
Taking a break from clinical practice
Another plus is that taking an extended break from day to day clinical work allows you to stand back and look at medicine from a different perspective. Part of this comes through working with non-clinical scientists and technicians, as well as senior academic clinicians. Many trainees returning to clinical practice after such a break feel refreshed and armed with new perspectives.
Development of skills
Researchers develop several general skills: public speaking, scientific writing, a deeper understanding of research methodology and statistics, running projects, organisation, computer literacy, evaluation of published papers and presentations at research meetings, and the knowledge to supervise or give advice to junior colleagues interested in research. All of these skills are fundamental to whatever consultant job you end up doing.
An MD or PhD is very important, even essential, if you want to be an academic physician. However, publications and/or an MD or PhD thesis undoubtedly help in competing for all posts, particularly in centres active in teaching and research. This is not just because you have specialised knowledge but also because completing a research degree or publishing papers demonstrates that you have multiple transferable skills, as well as no small amount of tenacity.
Doing research can be intensely satisfying. It provides the opportunity to become an expert in your subject and this may be the start of your lifetime's special interest. Knowing that you have made a contribution to your area is tremendously fulfilling, and many researchers find that publishing in journals read by their peers worldwide is a great pleasure.