One of the most common questions I get is whether or not research experience is required to get into medical school.
So, do you need research for medical school? No, it’s not required to get into medical school. Although there’s one exception that I know of, and that’s the University of Utah. When you look at their homepage for their admission requirements, they actually require a minimum number of hours.
Today I’m going to explain how you should think about research experience as part of the medical school application and part of your premed path.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[01:15] Do You Need to Do Research for Medical School?
Many students go into research with the assumption that they need to publish research in order to get into medical school. They think they need to get into a journal to prove that they’ve done research. And that’s just not the case.
It’s hard to start a research project and get the data published in a journal. You actually have to write it, submit it, and have it accepted for publication. This is not necessary to prove that you’ve done research as a premed. You just need to get involved to see if you like it. Go to a primary investigator in a research study. Go to your school or the hospital.There's no need to have your own research published as a premed in order to get into medical school. Just get involved in research to see if you like it.Click To Tweet
[02:27] The Goal of Research for Premeds
A lot of students don’t realize that research doesn’t have to be what most of them picture it to be. When a lot of premeds think of research, you think of wearing a white coat in a lab with pipettes. That doesn’t have to be the type of research you do as a premed.
You can do clinical research and be around patients. You can do research outside of medicine, and it’s still considered research.
The goal of doing research as a premed is so you know what it’s like to think critically through a hypothesis or how to think critically when looking at data.It's the thought process behind research that's important for premeds—not necessarily specific lab techniques. It doesn't even require a lab setting.Click To Tweet
You can get valuable research experience in a clinical setting or in a bench or wet lab setting. It can come working with rats or pigs or any animal model. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a very specific kind of research for your medical school application.
[03:58] Your Research Doesn’t Have to Be Medical
One student I worked with this year is a former geology teacher at a university. So she had a lot of geology research experience. And that’s research! You’re forming a hypothesis and then creating a set of tests around that hypothesis to test that hypothesis. You’re gathering data and you’re analyzing it to see what the results are. So your research doesn’t have to be medical.
If you don’t like research, that is okay, too. You don’t have to get to an end point of actually publishing something to prove that you’ve done research.
[Related episode: Do I Really Need to Do Research as a Nontrad Premed?]
[04:40] Research Is Not the Most Important Part of Your Medical School Application
As you’re thinking about what you need to accomplish as far as extracurriculars, you need to line up things in order of importance. Grades and MCAT score are important. Those always come first.
Outside of that, you need to look at clinical experience where you’re actually around patients. You also need to look at shadowing. You need to prove to the admissions committee that you understand what medicine is like.
Leadership experience and non-clinical volunteering—these are great “cherry on top” things.Clinical experience and shadowing are musts.Click To Tweet
If you have time and you want to try research, try it. If you don’t like it and it’s not something you’re passionate about doing all the time, that’s okay. Just try it and see what it’s like if you can. But don’t prioritize it above grades, MCAT scores, and those other things. Research is not more important than clinical experience.
Links and Other Resources
- Check out my Premed Playbook series of books (available on Amazon), with installments on the personal statement, the medical school interview, and the MCAT.
- Related episode: Is This Research Opportunity Worth It in the Long Run?
- Related episode: Do You Need an MD/PhD to Do Research as a Physician?
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