Why Future Residents Should Pursue Research Opportunities for Medical Students


07.26.2021

Most students begin planning their path to residency success as soon as they begin medical school. They know they need to achieve good grades, prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, and obtain excellent letters of recommendation. To stand out from other applicants, it’s also wise to look into research opportunities for medical students.

Get ready to find out not only how contributing to research can benefit you but also how you can identify good opportunities when looking to work at affiliated hospitals.

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Exploring the benefits of research for medical students

Succeeding in medical school requires commitment and hard work—most students set aside a dedicated study period every day. That said, carving out time for participating in research can be incredibly beneficial down the road. According to Dr. Snehal Doshi, a neonatologist, CEO of Millennium Neonatology, and St. George’s University (SGU) graduate, research experience can give students a competitive advantage when it comes time to apply and interview for residency positions.

“It shows a dedication to the craft and an increased body of work to evaluate,” he explains.

There’s evidence showing that residency programs value research experience as well. According to “Results of the 2020 NRMP Program Director Survey,” 36 percent of respondents cited involvement and interest in research as an element they consider when evaluating candidates. While factors like your performance on the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2, letters of recommendation, and personal statement are undoubtedly more important, it’s clear that contributing to scientific knowledge can help you stand out.

“It shows a dedication to the craft and an increased body of work to evaluate.”

Aside from helping you develop a more robust medical school curriculum vitae (CV), contributing to research can also prepare you to become a better physician. A review on the value of research in medical school indicates that those experiences help students develop critical skills, make informed career choices, and advance their practices in ways that improve patient care.

Keep in mind that quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to research. It’s in your best interest to keep your level of involvement manageable to ensure you stay on top of your regular studies.

“Don’t stretch yourself too thin,” Dr. Doshi advises. “Focus on one or two—at most—quality projects.”

Determining the right options for research in medical school

When it comes to determining which research topic to pursue, students should think about their post-graduation goals. Contributing to research in the specialty you intend to match into for residency or fellowship is a great choice, whether that’s pathology, orthopedic surgery, or another area of medicine.

“It definitely shows an interest by the student in a particular field and even brings up discussion topics during residency interviews,” Dr. Doshi explains.

As for the type of project you participate in, it’s usually a good idea to focus on clinical research. These experiences are directly related to patient care, so they’re particularly relevant for future physicians. Dr. Doshi adds that double-blind studies—ones in which neither the participants nor the researchers know who is receiving a treatment or intervention—are best. You might also consider involvement in a quality improvement project, which is a type of research that aims to solve a specific problem providers have identified in working with patients.

While the types of projects students pursue vary considerably, every medical student should have a goal of obtaining a byline in a publication. The American Medical Association (AMA) points out that some journals are more open to submissions from medical students, but the best route is to work on a project with an experienced physician author—and be forthcoming about your interest in being named in the final paper.

“You should speak to your research mentor and be comfortable with them when getting involved in the research,” Dr. Doshi says.

How to find research opportunities for medical students

Students who are interested in identifying research opportunities should start by leveraging their medical school community. “You can look up your faculty and see what they have published,” Dr. Doshi offers. “This is a great way to strike up a conversation about getting involved in research.”

Depending on your location, you might be able to participate in projects through various medical or government organizations. For instance, there are a variety of programs offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can also make use of searchable databases designed specifically for medical students, including one from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and one from the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS).

Lastly, consider taking matters into your own hands. Dr. Doshi recommends speaking to a faculty member about articles they find particularly interesting and then doing some research to find out who the lead authors are and whether you can contact them. Being proactive could open the door to a valuable research experience.

Bolster your residency application

By making the most of research opportunities for medical students, you’ll be able to gain valuable experience that can help you stand out when applying for residency positions. As you begin to approach application season, it’s a good idea to take stock of all the important components and when to complete them.

Start crafting your plan by reading our article “7 Important Residency Application Milestones Medical Students Need to Know.”

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