Many applicants to medical school go into the applications process with strong GPAs and great MCAT scores. Research experience is a hands-on way to separate yourself from the pack of other qualified applicants in the eyes of the admissions officers. Research opportunities range from volunteer positions to hands-on lab work for your university. Building connections and researching the kind of experience that would be most beneficial to you are the first steps in supplementing your application with research experience.
How important is research experience to medical schools?
Research experience is not a requirement for admission into med school, but it is an advantage on your application. An early interest and participation in research demonstrate work ethic and dedication to the medical field. Immersing yourself in the field before pursuing medical school is also a way to feel out certain types of research and roles to narrow your scope and ultimately find the path for which you are best suited.
When it comes to getting involved in research projects, the earlier the better. Building relationships with research mentors and staff can also lead to the added benefit of references and letters of recommendation.
Where can I find research opportunities?
Your undergraduate school is a great place to start for finding research opportunities. This starts with building a relationship with professors to find out if they have any special projects or research openings. It is also a good idea to express your interest in research opportunities to any teaching assistants you work with through your undergrad. Look into department websites for current research projects or volunteer research, even email principal investigators (PIs) conducting clinical research trials at your school to see how you could get involved in their studies.
Many medical centers host summer research programs for undergraduates to gain experience outside of the classroom. Research internships are also a great way to gain experience before medical school. When applying for internships make your intentions clear on what you would like to do with this experience. Entry-level jobs in clinical research participant recruitment are also ways to get your foot in the door of a research organization and build connections.
Clinical research experience often divides into two categories: paid and volunteer. Many paid positions require different licenses, but the requirements are generally not time-intensive and can be completed during your undergrad. These paid positions include emergency room techs, pharmacy techs, EMTs, paramedics and many more. Volunteer roles often do not involve direct medical care but still interact with patients. There are often volunteer positions available in medical centers, hospices, hospital emergency departments and programs sponsored by your university (i.e. internships).
What types of research experience are med schools looking for?
Medical schools will often find value in a wide breadth of experiences anywhere from social sciences research to clinical research. What is most likely to make you stand out as a candidate is a full year of research in a lab setting. This demonstrates commitment to growing professionally and sets you up for success in the research side of an academic organization.
Ultimately, the number one factor committee members will look at when choosing candidates for medical school is whether or not you are getting good grades and superior standardized exam scores. Focus on fulfilling the admission requirements before you commit to a research responsibility you cannot handle.
What should I get out of clinical research experiences?
Through research experience, you demonstrate to universities that you understand what it is like to work in the healthcare field and devote yourself to a career in it. When applying to med school it is important to emphasize what you learned about the field in your clinical experience and how it ties to your professional goals. Ultimately, you want to demonstrate that you are aware of what you are signing on for and prepared to start your career.
Being able to tie your research experience to your application’s overall theme will set you apart from the many other applicants vying for the same spot.