Finding Research for Medical Students

Research is a vital component to the field of medicine. It is also a critical component to any successful residency applicant’s curriculum vitae (CV). The amount of research you need depends on several factors, including which medical or surgical specialty you’re interested in and whether you want a prestigious academic residency or not. A particularly important time to participate in research is during your first med school summer vacation. But finding research for medical students can be tough. Some colleges, namely osteopathic schools, don’t have associated hospitals nearby. So, how do you find research opportunities as a med student?

As an osteopathic med student without any local associated hospitals, I struggled to find clinical research opportunities. I spent months before and during summer after my first year trying to find research. This is precious time I could have spent actually doing research. Eventually, I was able to find research, but perhaps not in the way you may expect. Allow me to share with you the steps I took to find research as a rising second-year osteopathic medical student (OMS-II).

Check with your Medical School for Research Opportunities

Check your school’s website

If anybody has research for medical students, it should be your med school. This should also be your first stop. Make sure you check all of the nooks and crannies of your school’s website for research listings. For example, my school has a hidden list of research opportunities with preclinical and clinical faculty. I discovered it from an extensive search of their website.

If no such list exists or if none of the projects pertain to your field of interest, the next step is to make it personal.

Check with your school’s local affiliated hospital

Of course, this only applies if you have a local hospital that your school is affiliated with. This is probably your best bet for finding research for medical students. Residents love assigning tedious chart reviews to med students! If you have this opportunity, send some emails, make some calls, and start slaving.
You’ll be a sweaty published med student in no time.

Check with preclinical faculty

The most helpful people in your med school experience will be those who gain the most from your tuition: preclinical faculty. Make use of their knowledge and ask around for research opportunities.

If your college has a research director, ask if they know of any clandestine research that might not be online. Your research director might also know some researchers outside of your school.

Check with your peers

Not everyone in med school is a gunner. Don’t be afraid to message your class Facebook page or GroupMe in search of research opportunities. Odds are somebody has found research at your school. This is a great option for two reasons: reduced workload and more future publications. Assuming you work on projects together, you reduce your and your partner’s workload. It’s similar to how gut bacteria synthesize vitamin K for their human hosts: symbiosis! The real question is, are you the gut bacteria or the host?

If your preclinical faculty and peers can only point you to benchwork, cadaveric case reports, or tedious literature reviews, consider taking them up on these offers. Clinical research is important, but residencies may also value basic science research. Several residents and physicians I’ve spoken to told me research in any field is better than none. Think about it, any med student willing to grind out basic science research to improve their CV is likely pretty dedicated to whatever field they’re applying to!

Ask the alumni

A list of your school’s alumni can be a powerful tool in the hands of a desperate med student. But with great power comes countless emails and phone calls. Seriously, if you have a list of your school’s alumni try reaching out to a few. Just don’t start the conversation with:

Hi, I need research. Save me.

I spoke with a few of my school’s alumni residents and always opened the conversation indirectly. I inquired either about how they found research as a med student or what they think about their residency program. I received a response every time. Afterwards, it’s safer to ask if they have any projects going on that they might need help with. If you can get them on the phone, you are more likely to be told yes.

I was offered two research opportunities out of five residents that I contacted. Unfortunately, one resident stopped responding to my messages (ghosted) and the other was located halfway across the country. Overall, this is a decent method to find clinical research, but be wary of residents who only want help in-person. If you are willing and able to travel, great! If not, consider family medicine. Just kidding, check out the next step.

Contact Physicians You Knew from Before Med School

Assuming you haven’t given up hope and settled for prison medicine, try using your contacts. If you shadowed or did research with any docs as a pre-med, it’s a good idea to contact them again. This is particularly true if the doctors you know practice at academic institutions. Academic physicians can also be great sources of LORs (letters of recommendation).

As a rising OMS-II, I found the majority of my research opportunities by reaching out to doctors I had shadowed from my hometown. For osteopathic medical students, you may want to consider this method as one of your first when it comes to finding research.

Find Research for Medical Students with PubDuo

After spending months searching for research, I finally had success by contacting docs I already knew. But for many, this isn’t an option. It was this struggle that inspired me to start PubDuo: a platform that helps connect students with investigators. With PubDuo, you can create a searchable Student Profile that investigators in need of students can find. You can also directly apply to research opportunities posted by residents, fellows, and attendings on the Project Board. Did I mention it’s completely FREE? Because it is.

I designed PubDuo with osteopathic med students in mind, but any student looking to find research can benefit. We should all have access to research opportunities, and now we do. If you want to get started finding research, create a FREE Student Profile and apply to projects on the Project Board today. Say goodbye to endless emails and phone calls. With PubDuo, you only have to search a little to research a lot.