Tags: Extracurricular Activities
Luke Vest is a third-year medical student at Saint Louis University and has experience in clinical data analysis. Blake Vest, MD is a dermatology resident at the University of Iowa and is experienced in writing reports on dermatopathology. Krista Lentine, MD, PhD is a professor of Nephrology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and she is world-renowned for her clinical research on living kidney donation to improve the care and outcomes for living donors.
For medical students and residents, publishing research articles can provide a uniquely rewarding educational experience. Medical students can publish articles to add to their residency application and become more competitive applicants. Residents can publish articles to meet the training requirements of their program and to bolster their fellowship applications, particularly when preparing for academic positions. In this article, we will discuss 5 ways in which publishing articles can help medical trainees by: 1) strengthening applications, 2) satisfying residency program requirements, 3) increasing personal medical knowledge, 4) providing easier access to future research opportunities, and 5) offering a sense of personal achievement.
Publishing Articles Can Strengthen Applications
Performing research and earning publications has become an important priority for medical students, especially students interested in competitive residency positions. Standardized testing provides a limited measure of a student’s achievements, and so students can perform research to strengthen their application. According to the 2020 National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) Program Director Survey, 36% of residency programs cited “demonstrated involvement and interest in research” as a factor when granting applicants an interview, and 28% of programs cited this as a factor when ranking applicants (1). While research involvement played a much less important role than other factors such as standardized test scores, it still was regarded as an important component of the application by many programs.
According to the 2020 NRMP “Charting Outcomes in the Match”, the average number of publications, presentations, and abstracts in U.S. MD seniors who matched into residency was typically greater than for students who did not match (2). The difference was more pronounced for competitive specialties such as neurosurgery, where matched students had an average of 23.4 publications versus unmatched students with 11.8 publications. The difference was less pronounced for less competitive specialties such as family medicine, where matched students had an average of 3.3 publications versus unmatched students with 2.5. Additionally, the NRMP does not distinguish between article publications, presentations, and abstracts in their report. An article publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal often takes significantly more time and effort to complete than a presentation or abstract, so it is likely that students often have a fewer number of article publications in comparison to presentations and abstracts. Abstracts are often citable and can be considered as publications, but they are typically much shorter than a full-length publication. Programs may choose to look more closely at full-length publications to assess the quality of a candidate’s work. Regardless, medical school and residency are full-time jobs in and of themselves, so projects that are less time intensive may still prove to be abundantly rewarding.
Publishing Articles Can Satisfy Residency Program Requirements
Residents are often required to complete some form of scholarly work during their residency. This is in accordance with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s stance in its Common Program Requirements for residency that a physician “requires the ability to think critically, evaluate the literature, appropriately assimilate new knowledge, and practice lifelong learning” (3). In assessing a resident’s success, program directors on average rated “Research and publications” at 3.1 out of a 5-point scale, with 0 being not important and 5 being very important (1). For neurosurgery, the rating increased to 4.1, while it decreased to 2.5 for family medicine. While “Research and publications” was not the most important factor contributing to resident success, ranking below “Professionalism” and “Quality of patient care”, it was still consistently listed as one of the components of success. Additionally, research and publications may benefit a resident when applying to fellowship programs, particular when planning for a career that includes research and medical education (4). In 2018, the average number of publications, presentations, and abstracts in U.S. graduates who matched into fellowship was 8.8 while unmatched applicants had an average of 8.2 (5).
Publishing Articles Can Increase Personal Medical Knowledge
Students can gain valuable skills and knowledge when performing medical research and earning publications. If working in a wet lab, students can develop skills in techniques such as cell culture, Western blot, and polymerase chain reaction. Knowledge and understanding of these procedures can help when preparing for boards exams which test knowledge of these concepts. If working in clinical research, students can learn to collect medical data from the community or from electronic health records and gain experience in data analysis. In the age of “big data,” much research revolves around analyzing large databases to examine patient characteristics and response to treatments. By working on a project in data analysis, students will experience firsthand how to collect data, analyze it, and communicate results. This provides a tremendous advantage, as students can use what they learned to interpret other research studies which employ similar methodologies. Interpreting data is also an important component of boards exams, and students will be more comfortable with these topics after performing research and contributing to the writing of a manuscript.
Even if you are not planning to perform research in your career, you will always need to stay updated by reading the latest research in your field, and previous research experience can help you better understand and critically assess current research articles. In a survey of 234 family medicine physicians, physicians who graduated from residency programs with established research curricula responded that they had greater appreciation for research and greater confidence with research skills than physicians from programs with no formal research training (6). This supports the notion that the knowledge gained from previous research experience can be beneficial in your career.
Publishing Articles Can Provide Easier Access to Future Research Opportunities
Having a track record of performing research can help students to become involved in future research opportunities. Through performing research, students develop skills that may be desirable to researchers in various fields. This means that if you want to perform research in a particular specialty, you can point to publications or research that you have done in the past to show that you are an experienced candidate with skills that will translate to productivity in new projects, even if the previous work was in an unrelated specialty. If you are having difficulty finding research in the specialty that you prefer, do not shy away from performing work in other areas first. You may gain skills that will help you to eventually perform research in your specialty of choice.
Publishing Articles Can Provide a Sense of Personal Achievement
Performing research can feel challenging, but participation in research can provide unique benefits distinct from education in the classroom or on the wards. Successfully seeing a project through to completion is a great accomplishment, leading to improvements at the personal, professional and even societal levels. Many research experiences will ultimately not result in a publication, so when it does, it is something to be proud of. Even research experiences that do not lead to publication can provide training and skills that enhance knowledge and open the door to future research opportunities. Publishing an article involves sharing your work with the research community, and this can lead to more studies which cause positive changes in patient care. Although the effect can appear more subtle than directly caring for an individual patient, publishing your work can have downstream effects which eventually translate to the bedside and benefit many future patients.
- National Resident Matching Program, Data Release and Research Committee: Results of the 2020 NRMP Program Director Survey. National Resident Matching Program, Washington, DC. 2020.
- National Resident Matching Program, Charting Outcomes in the Match: Senior Students of U.S. Medical Schools, 2020. National Resident Matching Program, Washington, DC 2020.
- Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. (2020). Common Program Requirements (Residency). Retrieved from https://www.acgme.org/Portals/0/PFAssets/ProgramRequirements/CPRResidency2020.pdf
- Hamnvik, O.-P. R. (July 20, 2017). Applying for Fellowship: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://resident360.nejm.org/expert-consult/applying-for-fellowship-what-you-need-to-know-2
- National Resident Matching Program, Charting Outcomes in the Match, Specialties Matching Service, Appointment Year 2018. National Resident Matching Program, Washington, DC. 2018.
- Smith, M. (2005). Research in residency: do research curricula impact post-residency practice? Fam Med, 37(5), 322-327. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15883897