Introducing the Western Health Surgical Research Group

An innovative research group is giving surgeons, trainees, junior doctors and medical students the chance to collaborate on internationally significant research to improve patient care.

The Western Health Surgical Research Group (WestSuRG) provides doctors in the first crucial years of their careers with an opportunity to gain hands-on research experience.

Since 2020, approximately 30 Western Health medical students and junior doctors from WestSuRG have supported more than five international research projects.

The research collaborative is also leading national trials into the use of compression stockings during surgery and pain medication after operations.

Chair of the WestSuRG Collaborative and Western Health Pre-SET Surgical Registrar Dr Howard Tang said a collaborative approach to research empowered and equipped junior doctors, medical students and interns to develop and deliver their own projects.

“In the traditional model of research, you are expected to develop the project, get ethics approvals and find a supervisor, but collaborative research empowers medical students and junior doctors to devise and deliver high-quality trials together with a network of their peers from Australia and internationally,” Dr Tang said.

“By being participants of a larger trial, junior doctors and medical students can commit to parts of the project, for example data collection and ethics applications, rather than having to initiate and complete the project all by themselves from start to finish.”

“So far, our research collaborative has supported research into delirium, how we treat pain after surgery, and significant studies into COVID-19 and how it affects the safety and outcomes of surgery.”

In 2023, they extended their focus to education.

“Our objective is to provide good peer mentorship and give junior doctors a taste of research,” he said.

“This year we have revamped our bi-monthly research meeting (open to all junior doctors and medical students) to include more education and research spotlights, showcasing the work of Western Health doctors and students.

Trainee research collaboratives were first pioneered in England more than a decade ago, but they are gaining popularity worldwide.

Professor Justin Yeung is the Head of the Department of Surgery, the Chair of Surgery, Western Precinct, University of Melbourne and a Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at Western Health.

He is also the WestSuRG Consultant Lead.

“It’s vital that doctors are carrying out research to drive change,” Prof Yeung said.

“We need to question our own practices to make sure we are delivering care that is efficient and effective,” Prof Yeung said.

Prof Yeung said WestSuRG provided junior doctors with mentorship, governance and processes, as well as a committee that supports each other.

“Collaborative research breeds collaboration rather than competitiveness, which teaches junior doctors values that will also make them great clinicians.”

Western Health Surgical Resident Dr Arkan Youssef was the research lead for an international multi centre cohort study into opioid prescriptions.

It examines pain relief provided to patients after surgery. The research investigates what is prescribed by doctors and what is consumed by patients, to identify risk factors for overprescribing opioids after common surgeries.

The study, named the Opioid PrEscRiptions and Usage After Surgery (OPERAS) was started by the Trials and Audits in Surgery by Medical Students in Australia and New Zealand (TASMAN).

Reflecting on the early days of his involvement, Dr Youssef said:

"Starting out, my journey into research felt daunting, but the supportive network at Western Health provided the perfect backdrop for taking those first steps.”

The results of the OPERAS study, which recruited more than 4000 patients from 25 countries, have just been published in a peer reviewed journal.

It found opioid prescription after surgery is associated with a higher risk of re-presenting to hospital, due to medical side-effects and increased patient-reported pain.

Dr Youssef’s experience underscores the growth that comes from stepping out of one's comfort zone.

"Taking the lead on OPERAS was a learning curve, but it was also an incredibly fulfilling experience that taught me a lot about teamwork, research methodologies, and leading with purpose."

This project's success is a testament to the power of collaboration, mentorship, and the pursuit of knowledge.

Western Health is committed to supporting and celebrating the achievements of our staff and their contributions to the broader medical community.

To find out more about WestSuRG contact:  WHS-WestSuRG@wh.org.au