Research During Medical School – how Do I Navigate?


Elizabeth Dennis, MD | Cory Smith, MD

June 16, 2021


There are a few things that strike fear and anxiety in the hearts of medical students universally: Step 1 (up until it goes pass/fail!), pharmacology, and the dreaded “research.” While the first two are often functions of work put in equals results, opportunities and success with research as a medical student can be fickle and difficult to navigate. However, do not fret! With a few pearls and helpful guidance, we will help you start to build the foundation of a CV that you can submit with pride.

1Reach Out

While this may seem intuitive, perhaps the most imposing step of doing research as a medical student is that you have to go find your own opportunities. As a resident, you are a known commodity and have research opportunities at your fingertips. However, as a medical student, few will know who you are or level of interest in doing research, so you have to make this known. Don’t be afraid to reach out to orthopedic surgery residents, your program director, or a medical student rotation director to begin conversations with attendings or residents already doing research. It is perfectly fine to “cold call” or email these individuals. Many of your colleagues will have already done this, so don’t be shy. Also, don’t be afraid to share questions or ideas you may have that could potentially lead to new projects. The heart of research is curiosity and asking questions, and interested medical students excel in both.

2The Answer is Yes

Most people know about the “3 A’s” of success in medicine:  availability, affability, and ability. However, as a medical student looking for research opportunities there is only one letter: Y for Yes! Once opportunities present themselves, take them. Research as a medical student should be in an area you have interest (if possible), but you should never turn down an opportunity simply because it is not the exact subspecialty you wish to pursue. If you are interested in hip and knee replacement, but a spine attending gives you an opportunity to participate, the answer is yes! Getting your foot in the door as a medical student can be the most difficult step, so never turn down an invitation.

3Finish the Drill

This may well be the most important point you read today: be a Hall of Fame “closer” like Mariano Rivera. If you are given a task, finish it – close the deal. It doesn’t always have to be finished at lightning speed, as we all have other hats we wear besides research, but you should finish every task you are assigned. Perhaps the best compliment a medical student can be paid is that they carry every task to completion. This builds trust with the research team, which leads into my next point.

4The Reward for Completed Good Work is more Work

The reason it is important that you finish every project is that this is the only way to receive more invitations! Do not be surprised if, after you finish your first project, others begin to come your way. Medical students who do quality work and finish on time are highly valued, so you may make yourself a commodity — which is exactly what you want. More project completions lead to more projects and studies, and this leads to more publications on your CV – the ultimate end goal.

With these pointers and strong mentorship from your residents and attendings, you are on the way to increased scholarly productivity, presentations, and ultimately, an orthopedic surgery residency!


DISCLOSURES: Dr. Dennis This individual reported nothing to disclose Dr. Smith This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2021 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s