How important is research experience when applying to medical school and can you get in without it? The answer may surprise you.
Questions answered here on the podcast are taken directly from the Nontrad Premed Forum over at premedforums.com. Please go ahead and register for an account, ask your question, and have fun with the community.
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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[02:22] OldPreMeds Question of the Week
“I am going to be a junior next year and am a player on my school’s basketball team. I have a very good GPA (3.93 cum) and although I am yet to take the MCAT, my two practice tests were both above a 507.
As a basketball player, I don’t have much time during the school year to participate in any of the research opportunities offered at my school. I have worked on one research project but as I have learned more about what medical schools expect to see on their applications I have noticed that a lot has to do with research experience.
My question is, given my circumstances do you think medical schools will look past my lack of research experience? And if not, does anyone know where I should be looking besides my school to find research opportunities?”
[03:19] Do You Need Research?
Personally, I think research is the most overrated part of the medical school application.
When we look at questions related to publishing or presenting a paper, all of that has to do with luck. If you do the research, then great. You don’t need to publish. You don’t need to present posters. Now, this student said they did do research they’ve been involved in one project. And in my mind, that is enough. Research is nothing more than how inquisitive are you. That’s the goal of research.“You don't even need to do any research and you will still get into medical school.”Click To Tweet
[04:32] Are You Just Checking the Box?
Now, with regards to the stats, I’m assuming this student is referring to the stats out there that shows like 93% of students have reported doing research in their application. And it’s like 50% or 60% have said that they’ve done clinical experience. And to me, that just makes no sense. It doesn’t track with what’s actually happening out there. I don’t know where those numbers are coming from.
Getting clinical experience is the most important part of the application. Getting shadowing experience is the second most important part. And then research is the third, if not fourth, most important part.'Research does nothing more than show that you are inquisitive.'Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, there are a lot of students who do research just because they’re checking a box. Because they see this random stat that shows 93%, or whatever it is, of students have said they have research. And to go out and check the box does nothing more than just check a box.
If you are interested in research, then go explore and try some research. If you don’t like it, don’t do it anymore.
[06:10] How About for the Research-Heavy Schools?
I’ve had conversations with an admissions committee member at UCSF, as well as directors and Dean’s of admissions at many other schools. And they said one thing.
Research is just not a priority for almost every school, including research-heavy schools like UCSF. They are looking for students who not only have great stats and great stories and everything else. But they’re not exclusively looking for students who have research experience. There’s this myth that gets perpetuated in the premed world, that if you want to go to a research-heavy school, you have to do research.
The only time that you have to have research is if you are applying to the dual degree Ph.D. programs.
A lot of students apply to these dual degree MD/Ph.D. programs because they see that a lot of them are free. And you get a stipend to go do the program. And what happens is they get rejected, not because of their stats, but because they have no research.“Research is important for dual degree Ph.D. programs. Research is not important for 'just' MD or DO programs.”Click To Tweet
[08:02] Being a Collegiate Athlete
There’s a specific spot in the application a specific category for an activity that shows you are an intercollegiate athlete. Just to clarify, this is not just an athlete for the intramurals.
Student-athletes are those focused on being an athlete first, and then being a student second. Obviously, this student crushing it with a 3.93 cumulative GPA is still doing well on the full-length practice exams. They now obviously need to fit in all of these other extracurriculars, including (in order of importance) clinical experience, shadowing, and then research.
Again, research is not that important. You have one already so be okay with that. Do not delay your application. Keep pushing forward, and you’ll be okay.