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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 105-114

Exploring research opportunities and challenges facing dental students in Khartoum state

1 Department of Periodontology Faculty of Dentistry, University of Science and Technology, Omdurman, Sudan
2 Department of Oral Rehabilitation, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Khartoum, Khartoum, Sudan
3 Research Department, Primary Health Care, Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar

Date of Submission04-May-2020
Date of Decision15-May-2020
Date of Acceptance19-May-2020
Date of Web Publication9-Oct-2020

Correspondence Address:
Nada Tawfig
Faculty of Dentistry, University of Khartoum, Khartoum
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jdrr.jdrr_22_20

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Context: Research is an essential component of many predoctoral medical and dental education programs focused on training students as clinicians, educators, and researchers in evidence-based practices. Despite the importance of clinical research, a variety of factors discourage young candidates from entering clinical research careers. As the rate of conduction of clinical researches in the dental field is increasing nowadays, it is important to define the impediments that face undergraduate and postgraduate dental students and hence formulate solutions. Aim: The aim of this study was to explore the research opportunities and challenges facing undergraduate and postgraduate dental students among different universities in Khartoum state. Settings and Design: Four hundred and twenty-six questionnaires were distributed in this descriptive cross-sectional study, among both undergraduate and postgraduate dental students in five universities in the Khartoum state. Materials and Methods: The questionnaire was modified from the dental students' research inventory questionnaire which was well validated. Statistical Analysis Used: The analysis was done using SPSS Version 22 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Results: Most of the participants included in this study were undergraduates (89%). The study showed that only 4.4% were found to face high challenges concerning data analysis, 46.7% have had a high challenge in writing a report and publishing their research data, and 60.4% encountered curriculum problems while conducting their research. Generally, most of the participants were unsatisfied about the different facilities and opportunities that were available to them. In addition, 84.8% of them were moderately satisfied from the knowledge and skills they gained from their research experience. Conclusion: Dental students among different universities in Khartoum state are facing challenges in several aspects while conducting a research project. Research committees should develop and enhance the needed facilities that would encourage young candidates to conduct research.

Keywords: Challenges, opportunities, postgraduates, research, undergraduates

How to cite this article:
Hassan M, Tawfig N, Bakri E, Miligy H, Jamal S, Osama A, Borai B, Algader EA, Gamal Y. Exploring research opportunities and challenges facing dental students in Khartoum state. J Dent Res Rev 2020;7:105-14

How to cite this URL:
Hassan M, Tawfig N, Bakri E, Miligy H, Jamal S, Osama A, Borai B, Algader EA, Gamal Y. Exploring research opportunities and challenges facing dental students in Khartoum state. J Dent Res Rev [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Dec 3];7:105-14. Available from: https://www.jdrr.org/text.asp?2020/7/3/105/297517

  Introduction Top

Research is the fundamental basis of improved healthcare. It is a crucial and an important component of the curriculum of most postgraduate dental programs and some undergraduate courses in Sudan.[1] Research programs help dental students to complete specialty training, become faculty members, as well as be contributors to future research.[2]

In addition, research programs in dental faculties have benefits to students such as enhancement of critical thinking and problem-solving skills together with increased biomedical perspective.[3]

The Global Congress on Dental Education held at Dublin Castle in September 2007 further endorsed the role that research plays in critical thinking and self-directed learning, as well as constitute a research base of clinical practice. Consequently, the Congress recommended that “it should become a standard that a “research requirement” of some extent is part of the undergraduate curriculum.”[4]

The issue of promoting research in the dental curriculum has broad implications, and there is no doubt that research promotion among dental students not only will eventually lead to a greater commitment of students to pursue academic careers but will also challenge faculty to increase and expand their research capability and productivity.[5]

An education tinted by research is one way of attaining the intellectual accuracy necessary for the professional. The key is cultivating in students a taste for complexity, for problems, and for problem-solving. All dental schools need to help students obtain this taste. In doing so, the graduate will become a person of science, rather than becoming a scientist, and only when a graduate becomes a person of science, he/she will be able to acquire and integrate new knowledge and to adapt to the changes in practice and in the profession that future requires.[6]

Despite the importance of clinical research, a variety of factors discourage young candidates from entering clinical research careers such as long training period, inadequate numbers of consultants, and salaries for physician investigators do not approach those that can be obtained in medical practice.[7],[8]

A need to develop a strong national clinical research program is crucial to encourage oral healthcare providers to follow evidence-based dental practice and thus to improve oral health care.

Ensuring achievement of research experience by students is one of the most important goals of the thesis –conduction process, and evaluation of student satisfaction, opportunities, as well as challenges within this process, is one of the most essential parameters that influence the future research commencement.

The number of dental faculties in Sudan has risen from just two faculties which are the University of Khartoum and the University of Gezira to thirty dental faculties (at the time when this article was written).[9]

The growing number of graduate students from around fifty to more than one thousand is accompanied by an increasing rate of conduction of clinical researches in the dental field, among both undergraduate and postgraduate students; however, there is a relative paucity of data regarding the opportunities available or the challenges facing those (unpublished data). Thus, to define the impediments and formulate solutions, it is necessary to perform such a study.

  Materials and Methods Top

The study protocol was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the University of Science and Technology. A closed-ended questionnaire named Dental Students Research Inventory (DSRI) questionnaire was used in the present study.

After approval of the study, a letter was delivered by investigators to the deans of faculties which were included in the study. A verbal consent was obtained from each participant before fulfillment of the questionnaire.

DSRI questionnaire was adopted from a survey conducted among regional dental colleges in India.[1] The DSRI consisted of eight domains containing 26 items: Three items to assess the factors related to study design and selection, four items related to external support and infrastructure facilities, three items related to data analysis, three items to assess the support from interpersonal relationships at the institute, three items concerned with writing a report and publishing the research findings, three items to assess overall research experience, three items related to curriculum design for research, and four items considering the opportunities for research. The Supplementary Material 1includes the DSRI questionnaire.

The distribution of questions was as follows:

  • Designing and selection of the study (Q1–3)
  • External support and infrastructure facilities (Q4–7)
  • Data analysis (Q8–10)
  • Support from interpersonal relationships at the institute (Q11–13)
  • Writing a report and publishing the research findings (Q14–16)
  • Overall research experience (Q17–19)
  • Curriculum design for research (Q20–22)
  • Opportunities for research (Q23–25/26).

Scoring system

For all questions (except numbers 18 and 19), strongly agree was given score of 4, agree score of 3, disagree score of 2, and strongly disagree score of 1. Scoring for question 18 and 19 was the opposite: strongly agree received score of 1 and strongly disagree with a score of 4. If the response to the questions was I do not know, it was awarded a score of zero.[1]

Mean DSRI scores were calculated for each domain for undergraduate and postgraduate students separately. A total mean of all the domains was also calculated to obtain the mean DSRI score for the two groups.

Depending on the mean DSRI score of all domains, the total mean score falls into one of the three categories: a mean score of 2–2.4 would indicate a low opportunity, a mean score between 2.5 and 3.5 indicates an area of concern with moderate opportunities, whereas a score of >3.5 would indicate a high facilitating factor for research.[1]

The normal distribution of scores was tested using the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test. Instrument scale reliability was calculated by the reliability coefficient, with Cronbach's alpha =0.7.

Sampling method

Convenient sampling was used to conduct the present study. In spite of the high number of dental postgraduate and undergraduate students, we were not able to hand out the questionnaire to every single dental student due to time limitations. This technique was used because of the limited time and resources that were available on the arena.

The study was conducted in all dental faculties in Khartoum state that perform research in undergraduate and postgraduate programs. A list of the dental colleges in the state was obtained from the Ministry of Higher Education of Sudan.

At each dental faculty, undergraduate and postgraduate students in all departments were approached and were asked to return the completed questionnaires by the next day. Since the postgraduate program is available only in a limited number of faculties in Khartoum state, the names of the faculties where postgraduate students were fulfilling research were also obtained from the Ministry of Higher Education of Sudan.

Students not having proposed a research protocol and those not presented on the day of the study were excluded. A total of 470 students covering five major dental institutions were finally approached, of whom 426 (380 undergraduates and 46 postgraduates) accepted to take part in the study.

Data were tabulated and analyzed using SPSS version 22 (SPSS 22 for Windows®). The analysis was performed with the Chi-square test for frequency. P < 0.05% was considered as the level of significance.

  Results Top

From a total of 470 students who were distributed among five dental faculties, 426 respondents completed the questionnaire, resulting in an adjusted response rate of 90.6%.

The majority of the respondents (89%) were undergraduate students and the remainder (11%) were postgraduates [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Distribution of the study population

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In the first domain which concerns designing and selecting a proper study topic, no significant difference was found in the level of knowledge among undergraduates and postgraduates as both undergraduates and postgraduates have a good knowledge with percentages of 83.7% and 90.9%, respectively [Table 1].
Table 1: Percentage of the level of knowledge in regard to study design and topic selection among undergraduate and postgraduate students

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Regarding the present facilities from a good access to literature, adequate research equipment, and useful internet technology, both undergraduates and postgraduates have a low level of satisfaction with 74.1% for undergraduates and 71% for postgraduates. Moreover, a low level of satisfaction was observed among ungraduated and postgraduate students in regard to the guidance and support they received from their colleagues and supervisors, with 53.4% for undergraduate and 63.4% for postgraduates [Table 2].
Table 2: Displays percentage of undergraduate and postgraduate students expressing challenges and opportunities with regard to the level of satisfaction

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Concerning the challenges that the undergraduate dental students were facing, only 4.4% were found to face high challenges relating to data analysis. On the other hand, 46.7% had high challenges in writing a report and publishing their research data. Furthermore, most of them (60.4%) encountered a curriculum problem while conducting their research [Table 3].
Table 3: Percentage of the level of challenge in relation to data analysis, writing report and publishing, and curriculum design for research among undergraduates

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All postgraduates were asked about their experience from the previous research that they had conducted during their academic career. 84.8% of them were moderately satisfied from the knowledge and skills they gained, while the majority believed that they could have improved many things if they had better knowledge at the beginning of their research [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Percentage of the level of satisfaction regarding experience from previous researches

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Almost half of the undergraduate dental students (52.8%) were unsatisfied on the opportunities available for conducting a research during their undergraduate education, while half of the postgraduates were moderately satisfied [Table 4]. This result was statistically significant (P = 0.034).
Table 4: Percentage of the level of satisfaction regarding the opportunities available for conducting a research among undergraduates and postgraduates

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When we came to compare between existing opportunities and challenges faced, most of the undergraduates thought that there were less opportunities compared to the challenges for conducting research during their undergraduate education, while the majority of postgraduates believed that there were more opportunities as regard the challenges they faced during their postgraduate education [Figure 3].
Figure 3: A comparison between existing opportunities and challenges faced by undergraduates and postgraduate students

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  Discussion Top

A total of 426 candidates constituted the final sample population for this descriptive cross-sectional study. The questionnaires were distributed among 380 undergraduates and 46 postgraduate dental students across five universities in Khartoum state, only two of which encompass master programs for dental students, and this can explain the dominance of undergraduates in the study.

The study revealed that most of the participants possessed the basic information that is needed for designing a good research topic and this eliminates the possibility of facing challenges owing to a lack of knowledge or a wrong selection of proper design of a study.

Both undergraduates and postgraduate dental students have confirmed that there is a lack of funding for research and that they should pay for all research costs on their own, which could be one of the greatest impediments and limitations for young health professionals entering clinical research careers.[10]

This finding is comparable to the study carried out in Pakistan where lack of funding was one of the major research barriers.[11]

There were an obvious difficulty in accessing literature and a shortness of the needed equipment and laboratories for both groups in this study. This is similar to the DSRI field testing groups where they found that most of the students faced more challenges in question related to access to literature (books and journals), which they attributed to the deficient knowledge of undergraduate students about methods of accessing literature, especially scientific journals.[1]

Similarly, there was an agreement that there were an inadequate guidance and support from a colleague or a supervisor and a lack of cooperation from participants which hamper the progression of the research process. This is entirely different from the descriptive, cross-sectional study conducted in 2015 by Eslamipour et al. to assess the satisfaction of dental students passing the thesis educational course where the highest satisfaction was found to be in thesis supervision.[12]

Relative to the data analysis methods, most of the students were found to have low challenges. This could be explained by the fact that data were analyzed by a statistician who is responsible for performing the analysis procedure for all students carrying out a research among the five selected universities. Moreover, most of them had a deficiency in the necessary skills and knowledge needed to write a scientific article and to select the right scientific journal for the publication of their research. This could be due to the fact that teaching in most undergraduate faculties is based on pragmatic evidence; thus, undergraduates are not usually required to refer to as much scientific literature as postgraduates are.[1]

The inadequacy of the present curriculum to provide sufficient time to perform research and to analyze data is another area that students documented as a challenge. This is similar to the survey that had been made in 2012 by the American Association for Dental Research National Student Research among 89% of US dental students, in which they concluded that inadequate time in the curriculum was an obstacle that students perceived to research involvement during dental school.[13]

This necessitates amendment in the curriculum so that students are given more time for a better scientific understanding of research methods, as the present condensed curriculum of dental education prevents students from developing a problem-solving approach.[1]

All participants were asked about their opinion from their previous research practice. The majority were moderately satisfied, while most of them felt that they have no enough information in regard to the research process and they could not commence into a new one by their own. This led us to the fact that there are insufficient research-containing seminars and programs at both under- and post-graduation levels, and this disagrees with the cohort study done by Kingsley in 2008 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in which the students were very satisfied with their overall learning experience during research enrichment.[3]

Finally, there were certain questions asking about the opportunities that the research process had provided for the students. Nearly half of under- and post-graduates were unsatisfied and moderately satisfied, respectively, and this is dissimilar from the findings obtained by Shirahatti et al. in their cross-sectional study in Maharashtra, India, where postgraduates perceived having good research opportunities as compared to undergraduate students who perceived average opportunities.[1]

Overall, postgraduates surpassed in the satisfaction of opportunities as related to the challenges, and they thought that their research project would be a footstep in their scientific career.

  Conclusion Top

Dental students among different universities in Khartoum state are facing challenges in several aspects while conducting a research scheme. They had a limited accessibility to the literature and equipment, guidance, and supervision and a curriculum overload that hindered them from focusing on their research procedure. Besides, they were unsatisfied with their overall learning experience during their previous research process. Furthermore, almost both undergraduate and postgraduate dental students were not highly satisfied with the opportunities that the research had provided to them.

Limitation of the study

Some of the factors that might have limited this study are the short time frame and the small number of sample framework as only a few universities in Sudan are supposing a research project for their dental students.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  Supplementary Material 1 Top

Questionnaire Dental Students Research Inventory

Assessment of Research Challenges and Opportunities Facing Dental Students in Khartoum State

Strongly Agree Disagree Strongly I Don't I Did Not

Statement Agree Disagree Know Understand

  1. Careful selection of a study topic is very important for good research
  2. Designing a study properly is very important for good research
  3. I designed my study carefully and adhered to the research design during the study
  4. I got easy access to literature (books, journals) to support my research
  5. I am aware of research grants that can potentially fund my research project
  6. Facilities like a good research laboratory with adequate equipment are available to me for conducting research at my institute or at a nearby facility
  7. Computer and Internet technology were useful, and I utilized them for my research
  8. Adequate facilities were available to me to measure results and analyze data
  9. I understand the need to carry out the statistical analysis, and I feel it is a very important step in a study
  10. I could understand and interpret the statistical analysis of my study
  11. The participants in my study cooperated at all steps during my study
  12. I received adequate guidance, help, or support whenever I faced any difficulties during the research from:

    1. Staff members
    2. My seniors
    3. My colleagues
    4. My juniors
    5. Literature.

  13. I was able to write a report of my research to my complete satisfaction by myself or after consulting my seniors and teachers
  14. I have the necessary skill and knowledge to be able to write a scientific article
  15. I have sufficient understanding to select the right scientific journal for the publication of my research
  16. I feel the need to publish my research in a journal so that the benefits of my research reach society
  17. After doing my first research, I felt it was a good experience
  18. After finishing my first research, I felt I could have improved many things if I had better knowledge at the beginning of my research
  19. I feel most of the research can be done in a better way than what we are already doing
  20. I feel that research should be guided by a team (research committee) instead of an individual for better research in the institution
  21. I feel that knowledge on research methods should be improved by including research methodology in the curriculum
  22. I feel that the present curriculum gives me adequate time to carry out research and analyze the data
  23. I feel there are a lot of opportunities for doing good research and we only need to utilize them
  24. I feel that research can be a good career option
  25. I feel that there are more opportunities compared to the problems and challenges for conducting research during my undergraduate education
  26. I feel that there are more opportunities compared to the problems and challenges for conducting research during my postgraduate education. (Answer this question only if you are a postgraduate student.).

  References Top

Shirahatti RV, Sura S, Sumanthprasad GR, Khurana L. Dental students research inventory: A questionnaire to assess research challenges and opportunities. J Dent Educ 2010;74:1308-18.  Back to cited text no. 1
Rosenstiel SF, Johnston WM. Goals, costs, and outcomes of a predoctoral student research program. J Dent Educ 2002;66:1368-73.  Back to cited text no. 2
Kingsley K, O'Malley S, Stewart T, Howard KM. Research enrichment: Evaluation of structured research in the curriculum for dental medicine students as part of the vertical and horizontal integration of biomedical training and discovery. BMC Med Educ 2008;8:9.  Back to cited text no. 3
Divaris K, Barlow PJ, Chendea SA, Cheong WS, Dounis A, Dragan IF, et al. The academic environment: The students' perspective. Eur J Dent Educ 2008;12 Suppl 1:120-30.  Back to cited text no. 4
DePaola D, Howell H, Baker CG, Boy-Lefevre ML, Hull P, Holmstrup P, et al. 1.4 Research and the dental student. Eur J Dent Educ 2002;6 Suppl 3:45-51.  Back to cited text no. 5
Bertolami CN. The role and importance of research and scholarship in dental education and practice. J Dent Educ 2002;66:918-24.  Back to cited text no. 6
Kalfoglou AL, Sung NS. What inspires clinical research trainees and keeps them on the path? J Investig Med 2002;50:408-11.  Back to cited text no. 7
Sung NS, Crowley WF Jr., Genel M, Salber P, Sandy L, Sherwood LM, et al. Central challenges facing the national clinical research enterprise. JAMA 2003;289:1278-87.  Back to cited text no. 8
Elsheikh NM, Osman IM, Husain NE, Abdalrahman SM, Nour HE, Khalil AA, et al. Final year dental students' perception and practice of professionalism and ethical attitude in ten Sudanese dental schools: A cross-sectional survey. J Family Med Prim Care 2020;9:87-92.  Back to cited text no. 9
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
Murillo H, Reece EA, Snyderman R, Sung NS. Meeting the challenges facing clinical research: Solutions proposed by leaders of medical specialty and clinical research societies. Acad Med 2006;81:107-12.  Back to cited text no. 10
Jeelani W, Aslam SM, Elahi A. Current trends in undergraduate medical and dental research: A picture from Pakistan. J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad 2014;26:162-6.  Back to cited text no. 11
Eslamipour F, Noroozi Z, Hosseinpour K. Assessment of dental student satisfaction with regard to process of thesis educational courses. J Educ Health Promot 2015;4:101.  Back to cited text no. 12
Holman SD, Wietecha MS, Gullard A, Peterson JM. U.S. dental students' attitudes toward research and science: Impact of research experience. J Dent Educ 2014;78:334-48.  Back to cited text no. 13


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]


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