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VR-READY Placement: Reflections Of A Fourth Year Medical Student

20 December 2023

Cardiff University hosts a range of student placements within the on-campus internships programme providing opportunities for undergraduate students to undertake summer placements within university departments. This year, the VR-READY team welcomed Anna Bijou, a fourth year medical student and here is what she thought about her experience!

– Blog by Anna Biju and Dr Kim Smallman

As a fourth year medical student, I came to realise that I needed to shift my focus into enhancing my career skills and becoming a good clinician as opposed to solely working towards passing all my exams. Upon reflection, I recognised that a personal area of weakness was my knowledge and involvement in medical research. Although there are several research opportunities throughout the course, I believe that there is very limited exposure to the research process as a whole. This ultimately encouraged me to apply for a research-based summer internship.


I was incredibly pleased to be offered a position on the VR-READY internship scheme as it was my top choice within the several applications I had submitted towards the On-Campus Internship Scheme. There were several aspects that pushed me to favour this particular internship. First of all, seeing how the project was clinical and based on rehabilitation medicine suited my interests as I have always been keen on studying chronic diseases, holistic care and long-term recovery. Additionally, the involvement of Virtual Reality was another selling point as I understand its evolving use in the medical field through using it myself during simulation and training sessions. Lastly, the aspect that piqued my interest the most was the qualitative nature of this project as this opportunity would provide me a whole new skillset as almost all my previous work was quantitative.

My experience

This project has been a steep learning curve for me with a fair share of challenges and new experiences, however, I was never short of support. My lead supervisor, Dr Kim Smallman was a constant guidance throughout the project and always allowed for open discussion about questions I had with regards to qualitative research (which was plenty!). Co-supervisor Dr Cheney Drew similarly introduced me to her role as a chief investigator of a research trial and I was able to attend several meetings led by Dr Drew which painted a picture of the true research process and its logistics. Lastly and certainly not least, Dr Ceri Lynch and co-lead for VR-READY was also an important mentor as she was able to show the role of a clinician in research which is more relevant to my background as a medical student. Dr Lynch also kindly invited me to meet and work with her ICU team which helped me visualise the direct need and impact of this research study.

My main task initially was to produce a literature review on Post-Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS). This was hugely beneficial as firstly, I’d never heard of PICS before and secondly, I’d never produced a comprehensive literature review since my first year of medicine. I was also able to see why a literature review was integral to this project as it later helped me identify the relevance of the collected data and the area of PICS that I wanted to focus on.

Another key experience was familiarising myself with NVivo, a qualitative analysis tool. The software itself was a new experience but learning how to work with qualitative data with written and audio outputs involved a completely different approach and mindset to working with numerical data on SPSS, for example. After discussion with Dr Smallman, I learned that in qualitative studies, the background and context of the person completing the analysis was vital in the way data is analysed which is something I hadn’t previously considered.

Lastly, this internship taught me the aspect of being human amongst the science and data that you work with in the research industry. I have had the privilege of attending several focus groups which involved ICU survivors describing their journey; the wins, the losses, the trauma and the hardships during and after their discharge from ICU. Attending these focus groups in between working with literature and analysing data, always reminded me that there’s real people behind all the information and it also served as a reminder for the aim of the study and the people it could potentially support in the future.

Overall, I am grateful for this opportunity as it is not often that medical students can have such an in-depth exposure to a research study, and I have to thank both the University’s internship scheme and the VR-READY team for this invaluable experience. I have learned a great deal about the research process.

– Anna Biju and Dr Kim Smallman