I sat down with my college advisor at the beginning of junior year.
“This is a very important year for you as a pre-med major you know. You’ll be taking the MCAT towards the end of the year and your schedule has some difficult classes in it.”
“Yes I know,” I replied, “How does my application look overall so far?”
“It’s great, good GPA, strong extracurricular activities. The only thing you’re missing is research.”
I groaned with dismay. I had absolutely no desire to sit in a lab, pipette solutions and grow bacteria. Even though some lab jobs on campus offered a salary, I was a Division I athlete and had no time to commit to a part-time job. Why was this necessary for my application?
Fast forwarding to my junior year of medical school, I found myself having a very similar conversation with my dean after my decision to enter orthopedic surgery. I looked at her shyly and asked, “How much research do I need to have a strong application?” She informed me orthopedics was one of the toughest residencies to match into therefore more research could only make me a stronger candidate.
After finding a clinical research position in undergrad, I knew I would prefer clinical science to basic science in a year-long research position. I landed an amazing research position in a new city and could not be happier. However, I was extremely nervous because of my limited research experience. I had never written an IRB protocol or an entire manuscript for that matter, but I was a fast learner and adapted quickly. On my first day, I was handed a list of 15 projects and given the choice of which projects to manage. I chose a couple and soon enough I was completely in charge of several projects. My days consisted of running from the OR to the clinic to speak to patients and collect information. With my newfound autonomy, I knew it would be a productive year.
Halfway into the year, I was given an IRB to finish and was informed that would be my project moving forward. For the next several months, I was the sole person responsible for data collection and eventually analysis. I received an email asking for medical student abstracts for podium presentations and I finally understood why doctors were research junkies. I felt like this project was my baby. I put so much time and effort into gathering this data to prove a hypothesis and I actually proved it! After months of hard work, my efforts contributed towards medicine and potentially changed the way physicians would treat patients.
I finally understood why every level of school had been asking for research. They wanted you to be invested in something medically related. They wanted you to commit time to making a difference in the medical field. More importantly, they wanted you to be accustomed to reading other research manuscripts to know what new treatments and available options, inevitably making you into a better doctor.
My advice to anyone thinking about taking a research year to is make sure you find an institution that can support you and your goal. It’s much easier if you are able to do research at an institution with multiple resources. You also want to go somewhere that can give you autonomy so you can develop your own projects, which is inevitably what residencies want to see when you apply. For all the students who never thought they could become a research junkie, it’s more rewarding than you think.
Kamali Thompson is a med student, fencer for team USA and a 2018–2019 Doximity Author.