Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
In recent years, it has become increasingly important for medical students to gain familiarity and facility with research methods due to growing emphasis on evidence-based medicine. As a result, more medical students are choosing to pursue research projects through an independent scholarly year. Despite this trend, two of the largest national programs that supported medical student research were discontinued this year—the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Clinical Research Fellowship and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Research Scholars Program. Having participated in the Doris Duke program, we want to briefly reflect on the value of medical student research and call for future support of this cause.
Nothing prepares a young physician to tackle a career in academics more than independent research. A scholarly year provides students protected time to focus on a subject of interest and work under the mentorship of a senior investigator. These experiences provide insight into the practice of academic medicine, intensive training in research methods, and refinement of core skills needed to effectively communicate and present scientific findings.1 Students’ accomplishments often make them competitive candidates for research-based residencies and prepare them to incorporate research into their future practices. Perhaps most important, a research year can cultivate a passion for being at the forefront of discovery through generating meaningful questions based on clinical experiences, confirming (and rejecting) hypotheses, and sharing findings with peers.
Medical schools have addressed students’ desires to participate in research through various mechanisms. In the Mount Sinai Class of 2012, 23% of medical students not pursuing a PhD participated in an additional scholarly year. Students received funding from national programs or institutional support to pursue research in medical oncology, cardiology, epidemiology, and other specialties. Other schools mandate participation in research as part of the medical school curriculum.2 For example, Duke University requires that all medical students spend their third year immersed in a mentored research experience. Stanford University takes a different approach, requiring a longitudinal research experience that spans the four years of medical school as an adjunct to didactic sessions on research methods. These schools recognize that many students will ultimately pursue primarily clinical careers, but believe that the skills students acquire in statistics, evidence-based medicine, and the scientific basis for clinical decision making merit the continued investment in medical student research.
Going forward, it is the responsibility of mentors, schools, government, and private organizations to commit to the next generation of physician investigators. We urge the community to facilitate independent scholarly research years for qualified students, and we encourage our peers to seek out research opportunities with enthusiasm and courage. These experiences can be the highlights of medical education. They were for us.
Alexander C. Small, MD
Urology resident, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York, and 2012 alumnus, Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellowship Program; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren L. Levy, MD
Intern, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York, and 2012 alumna, Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellowship Program.
1. Parsonnet J, Gruppuso PA, Kanter SL, Boninger M. Required vs. elective research and in-depth scholarship programs in the medical student curriculum. Acad Med. 2010;85:405–408
2. Laskowitz DT, Drucker RP, Parsonnet J, Cross PC, Gesundheit N. Engaging students in dedicated research and scholarship during medical school: The long-term experiences at Duke and Stanford. Acad Med. 2010;85:419–428