One of the questions pre-medical students often ask is, “Do I need to do research to get into medical school?”
Medical school applicants don’t need to participate in research, much less publish papers, to have a strong application. However, research only enhances the application, not detracts from it. Research does not guarantee admission to medical school, nor is it necessary to obtain admission.
However, I encourage pre-school students to do research at some point in their pre-school career. By participating in research projects, you will be trained to think critically about unsolved problems.
Research allows us to better understand the unknown. Our current medical knowledge is built on clinical research. For example, the medicines we prescribe to our patients undergo rigorous clinical testing, and diagnostic workups and treatment plans rely on evidence-based medicine based on research data.
Many pre-ed students believe that the research they do must be medical or scientific in nature. Another common misconception is that a strong premed must be involved in basic science research, often referred to as bench research. Although many pre-med doctors do medical-related research, these ideas are not true. I have mentored excellent preparatory students in research ranging from analyzing Shakespeare’s plays to creating medical devices for people with disabilities.
6 types of medical research
Here are six health-related research directions that I commonly see among pre-meds. This reflects the breadth of research that can be pursued.
- basic science research
- clinical research
- public health research
- Research on public policy regarding health
- Narrative medicine research
- Artificial intelligence research
basic science research
Basic science research, also known as “bench research”, is traditional research conducted in a laboratory environment. It addresses the basic understanding of biology.
Premeds involved in basic science research often study cells, viruses, bacteria, and genetics. This research may also involve animals and tissue specimens.
For example: A well-prepared student interested in cancer biology might study the cellular pathways of a particular tumor suppressor gene. Another prepared student might investigate how gut bacteria affect protein folding.
Clinical research is a branch of medical research that tests the safety and effectiveness of diagnostic products, drugs, and medical devices. It involves human subjects.
Example: A pre-med interested in COVID-19 may conduct clinical trial research on new COVID-19 treatments. Other researchers interested in dementia are studying whether sleep improves depression in Alzheimer’s patients.
public health research
Public health research studies the health of communities and populations in order to improve the health of the general public. Topics range from vaccine access, disease prevention and disease transmission to substance abuse, social determinants of health, and health education strategies.
Example: A student interested in health equity might conduct public health research on how health insurance status and geography affect heart attack mortality rates. Those interested in environmental science may be interested in the health effects of wildfire smoke.
Medical public policy research
Pre-meds who work in health policy research aim to understand how laws, regulations, and policies affect people’s health. Premeds may engage in both national and global policy research.
Example: A physician interested in nutrition is researching the effectiveness of a nutrition program in the Philippines. Some people are interested in economics and study the American health insurance market.
Narrative medicine research
Narrative medicine research collects stories from patients and their loved ones to understand their experiences. As stated on the Association of American Universities website, “These stories tell the story of how a person got sick, the tipping point that forced them to seek help, and, perhaps most importantly, , can reveal the social challenges we face in order to recover.”
Example: A pre-ed student who is interested in how Asians perceive disease could interview Asian patients about their attitudes toward herbal medicine in cancer treatment. Another pre-educational student interested in caregiver support can interview caregivers of patients on ventilators for extended periods of time to understand family decision-making processes .
Artificial intelligence research
For example: A medical master’s student interested in radiology might write a program that uses AI to analyze hundreds of chest X-rays to better detect pneumonia. Another pre-ed student might create and refine algorithms using electrocardiograms to better detect abnormal heartbeats.
Note that research is not limited to these six categories. I have also met pre-meds who work in journalism research and business consulting research. As long as you have a research question and a scientific approach to analyzing that question, your pursuit is usually considered research.
How research can strengthen your medical school application
Research can strengthen your medical school application in several ways.
First, if the research project is related to the student’s interests, participation in research shows the application committee that the student is committed to advancing the field.
When writing about applied research, don’t just describe what you did, but also what you learned from your research experience. These lessons include adaptability, analytical thinking, and resilience.
Additionally, you can discuss your research by writing stories about secondary applications. For example, a typical secondary essay prompt asks you to discuss a time when you failed or faced a challenge. You can write an essay about a difficult time you faced during your studies and discuss how you overcame it. This gives the admissions committee insight into how to think critically about the problem.
Second, medical schools strongly prefer independent research where students lead projects. In independent studies, premeds form research questions and hypotheses. Next, students collect, analyze, and interpret data.
Students who conduct independent research are in contrast to students who assist other researchers on parts of a project or who follow protocols such as clinical trial recruitment without thinking critically about study design and analysis.
Third, becoming an author of a published paper is an important milestone and can be a valuable boost to your Premed application. Of course, being the first author of a manuscript is a great feat, but it’s not necessary to be seen as a good student.
In addition to publishing in academic journals, medical and doctoral students can introduce their research through poster presentations and lectures. Publishing your research shows that you are excited to share your research and are able to explain your research to others, even those outside your field. These are all powerful ways to demonstrate your accomplishments and passion for research.
The value of research for pre-therapists
By conducting preliminary research, you can find out first-hand how much research you want to pursue throughout your career. After conducting research, some students may decide to pursue an MD degree. Articulation. Other students may realize that their strengths lie elsewhere and do minimal research as a physician.
Through research, aspiring physicians can develop important skills that will help them care for their patients. They learn how to read and write research papers and evaluate treatment options by analyzing how robust the evidence is for a particular treatment.
There are many benefits to working on research as a pre-test, one of which is simply improving your medical school application. Because research is the basis of medical progress, it helps us become more thoughtful doctors.