Last year, the University of North Texas Health Science Center Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine had 44 students match into a pediatric residency. Many of them had research experience via UNTHSC/TCOM’s partnership with the Department of Pediatrics and Cook Children’s Medical Center, says Albert Yurvati, DO, who is a surgery professor at UNTHSC as well as the school’s chair of medical education.
Research experience can give competitive students an extra edge. According to the 2016 NRMP Program Director Survey, 44 percent of program directors surveyed across all specialties cited involvement and interest in research as an important factor for selecting applicants to interview. Beyond the COMLEX and letters of recommendation, research experience and publications give program directors another way to evaluate applicants, according to a JAOA article.
What will research experience tell program directors about me?
“Having research experience can show that a student is a competitive candidate for residency,” Dr. Yurvati says.
Cara Ruggeri, DO, an internal medicine program director at St. Luke’s University Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, says students with research experience often have excellent analytical and time-management skills.
“When you have a candidate that’s just as strong as another, if one has research experience, we know they’re going to perhaps add a little more to the program,” Dr. Ruggeri says.
John Morris, OMS IV, wants to match into a radiology program. He believes research experience will help him stand out as a competitive applicant.
“If we can show we have strong scores and we’ve done research, that we’re on par with the MD students who are applying, it will be helpful,” says Morris, who attends Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Will any type of research give my application an edge?
Generally, any research experience is an added bonus to tip strong applicants over the edge.
For students looking to go into certain competitive specialties, like orthopedics, radiology or ophthalmology, usually program directors favor applicants who have completed research in those fields.
Dr. Ruggeri looks at students with clinical research experience more favorably than those with bench, or basic science research experience, because it indicates they have worked with patients. There has also been a growing emphasis on quality improvement research projects, also known as rapid-cycle projects.
“Students who know how to deal with people and disease states are attractive to program directors looking for people to possibly join their team,” Dr. Ruggeri says.
While research is a way for students to stand out, program directors across all specialties ranked other factors like USMLE/COMLEX scores, letters of recommendation and Medical Student Performance Evaluations as more important factors when selecting applicants to interview. This means it’s important for students to make sure the pursuit of research doesn’t come at the expense of grades or test scores.
How will research experience help me during residency?
Currently, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires residents to have exposure to medical research in their residency program. As the profession transitions to a single system of graduate medical education accreditation, osteopathic medical students will see research become a more relevant component of their postgraduate training.
Pursuing scholarly activity in school will provide a foundation for students to build upon during residency, Dr. Ruggeri says.
“Having experience as students really carries into the learning curve so they have a little bit more experience when they’re doing research as a resident,” Dr. Ruggeri says.
Research also helps residents continue on the trajectory to be strong candidates if they decide they want to pursue fellowships.
“If you do research as a student, you’ll be more comfortable doing it as a resident, and that can make you more competitive when you’re moving forward into fellowships,” she says.
What about during my medical career?
Research-based skills lay a foundation to understanding new findings, treatments, cures and patient management, according to a JAOA article.
“Students with research experience learn how to read and interpret current medical literature,” Dr. Ruggeri says. “Using evidence-based information in order to counsel our patients appropriately is our obligation as physicians.”
To dig deeper into his interest in radiology, Morris is participating in a radiology-focused quality improvement project. His research has improved his ability to analyze medical literature and apply it to patient care.
“Everything I’ve learned from research has made me a better scientist,” Morris says.