Research

November 19, 2013

I get asked the “should I do research” and “where can I do research” question often. From my look at the NRMP data about half of those who match have research which means half do not.

If you are going to do two years of research and delay your application and increase the distance from your year of graduation you better produce something like this. High quality research is difficult and takes a lot of time to produce. You need to join a productive group and bring something to the table. Few IMG applicants who do any research time without previous training (MPH, MSc, PhD) have much to show for it. Performing research to get into residency is not worth the effort. Pursuing research because of your passion to become an academic is a laudable act in my opinion.

If you think about it, most successful IMG applicants will match in community programs (there are just more spots).  In general community programs value your clinical acumen more than your research skill.  A program based at a Academic Medical Center with a large research budget may be more interested in your research potential. So, in most cases, the value for your time spent doing research is not in your favor. That being said, if research is your life (like mine) then by all means do as much as possible.

Now, the question of where. It is tough to get a research position as US research funding is harder to come by for those who will employ you. Fewer dollars mean fewer research positions. Institutions are making volunteer research positions a thing of the past.

The most important thing to realize is that if your step 1 scores are low or less than average, no amount of research will cause a program to ignore your low scores. A really good IMG application needs no research. A really good IMG application with exceptional research in the form of high quality publications is decidedly unusual.  This combination will be of interest to the best internal medicine programs. Unless you are in an MPH or MSc program at a top university or a top lab, you are unlikely to get the research you need to have exceptional research experience.  Truly meaningful research experiences usually happen during fellowship and are grounded in research methods education programs.

The views expressed on this post are those of Kenneth Christopher, MD and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer Partners HealthCare, his hospital, department or division.

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