Let’s get clinical

How to fund your first research project

Getting money for research is not always easy, but it’s possible when you know what funders are looking for.


For medical students, research can be an important component of the learning process. For residents, it is typically a requirement of their program. However, securing funding at either level is challenging. The DO spoke with a leader in the clinical research field who has conducted more than 50 studies. We also spoke with a third-year ob-gyn resident who received a $10,000 grant for her first research project. Here’s their advice on how to navigate the process.

Start close to home

Jay Shubrook, DO

If you’re in medical school: A good place to start is to consider options that you already have access to, such as joining a research project that is already funded. A faculty advisor or chairperson may also help to identify possible sources of funding within your program.

“Join someone else’s research project first so you can learn the mechanics of research and get exposure,” says Jay Shubrook, DO, director of clinical research and diabetes services at Touro University California College of Osteopathic Medicine (TUCOM).  “You can also begin by pulling a mentor in who has experience and can help validate your research and support you.”

While in medical school, Lauren Przeslawski, DO, connected with an infertility specialist conducting research, a step that helped her become more familiar with her specialty and with providing care to patients in that field. “I was basically helping the residents on the project. I’d help administer the survey and charts,” she says.

She also took courses to better understand the research process. “As a third- and fourth-year, I took a course that provided research credit,” she says. “The course went over data collection and what an IRB [an institutional review board, required for research on human subjects] was all about.”

Lauren Przeslawski, DO

If you’re a resident: Begin with the hospital or affiliated center where you are currently completing your residency.

Dr. Przeslawski is a third-year ob-gyn resident at University of Michigan Health’s Metro Health. She submitted an application for a grant to Metro Health Hospital Foundation for a study comparing two antiseptics used for vaginal preparation during Cesarean births. In her application, she requested $100 per study participant, with 100 estimated participants, to cover laboratory costs. “I sat down with my attending in November 2016 regarding the research idea. I submitted my application and IRB application to the foundation, and it went through in March,” she says. “My advice is to start early. It’s a process.”

Standing out from the competition

There are three key indicators that reviewers are assessing when considering an application for funding, says Dr. Shubrook, who reviews funding requests from physicians for the AOA.

  1. Can the project be completed within the timeline of the funding?
  2. Does the study meet the goals or mission of the funder?
  3. Does the applicant have a track record to support the research?

“Normally, no one wants to fund a project for someone who doesn’t have a track record. Most studies start with a pilot or a trial project.” Regarding the funding for one of his earlier research projects, he says “First, I did a case study, then a case series, then I published. After that, I was able to get a grant.”

Looking at outside sources

U.S. government health agencies: With an annual budget of nearly $32.3 billion, The NIH is the nation’s largest medical research agency.  The organization uses a Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool that reports funding based on disease, condition, location, applications reviewed and applications funded.

Jennie H. Kwon, DO, MSCI, was awarded a $450,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to study the effects of a healthy person’s immune system when given antibiotics.  Dr. Kwon is the 2016 National Academy of Medicine (NAM) Osteopathic Medicine Fellow. “I’m privileged to be able to study important questions such as the effect of antibiotics on the microbiome,” Dr. Kwon told The DO in 2016 after receiving the grant. “And to have a framework, system and funding to try to answer these questions in the form of potentially impactful studies.”

The AOA: The AOA awards grants in five research areas, including osteopathic philosophy, chronic diseases & conditions, osteopathic manipulative medicine/osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMM/OMT), musculoskeletal injuries and prevention, and pain management. With the goal of impacting patient care and evidence-based medicine, the grants should demonstrate the value of the osteopathic approach to practicing medicine. The annual deadline for submitting a Request for Application (RFA) is approaching quickly. Interested candidates have until Jan. 31, 2018.

Department of Defense (DOD): From 1992 to 2015, the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) has funded over $8.6 billion in research. Currently, the topics the organization is funding research on include, but are not limited to, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer, tuberous sclerosis complex, and neurofibromatosis.

Other sources: The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rank among entities often sought out by residents for funding opportunities.  The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) also offers grants of up to $5,000 and up to $10,000 for medical education research and institutional research, which could cover topics related to workforce issues, such as the implications of the expansion of osteopathic medical colleges, branch campuses, additional teaching sites, and class sizes. Proposals are due by Feb. 9, 2018.

Additional funding sources include non-governmental organizations and private organizations.

Staying the course

Dr. Przeslawski recently enrolled her 80th patient in her study slated for 100 patients and is on course to complete it within the 12-month period allotted. As a result of her research, Metro Health has instituted a uniform procedure for vaginal prep for Cesarean births. She is hopeful that her study will also yield results that will make a positive impact on women’s health care.

Dr. Przeslawski says relying on in-house resources is critical to staying on course and managing the research funds provided. “The research and grants department is helpful. They will sit down and walk you through the stages. My advice to residents is to sit and talk with them.”

For further reading

Getting into residency: Why research experience can give you an edge

How conducting research can advance your career—and the osteopathic profession

Over $1 million awarded to DOs and researchers to bolster osteopathic research

Attention researchers: Apply now to get funding for your osteopathic projects

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