How important is research?

I am currently taking 15 credits, working 50 hours per week as an EMT, volunteering 3 hours per week at a hospital and shadowing every few weeks for an afternoon.

I have read that having research is important to have a well rounded application. The trouble is I dont know if it is worth sacrificing grades, volunteering or shadowing hours?

My goal is to apply primarily to DO schools but there are a few MD schools that I am looking at.

Should I get involved in research at the expense of volunteering or will that hinder not help my app?

I would say that you shouldn’t sacrifice your grades for a few hours of research. With your job or volunteering now are there any research opportunities? If you feel that adding some research is really important, maybe with your EMT job you could do something about response times or incidence of cardiac events…(just thinking out loud). I feel that you already have great medical exposure through your job, volunteering, and shadowing. Maybe over the summer you could to a 2-3 credit hour research/independent study?? Right now I think you should focus on making As. :slight_smile:

I’m a paramedic and had the same question as you when I started going back to school. If your EMT work is moderate to high volume and you’re getting decent clinical experience then you can change up some of your time allocation. I don’t think you should add more. Are you working emergency or non-emergency transport? If you are non-emergency, are you mainly doing dialysis appointments and return to nursing homes or are you doing more critical interfacility stuff? At all of my interviews this year there were a few EMT’s. Most of them became EMTs for their applications, worked volunteer or in low-volume agencies, or worked in hospitals. I say this because it’s very common for people to become EMT’s to boost their app. It’s far less common for EMT’s to realize they love medicine and go back to school. If you are the latter, than you need to be prepared to show that, because Adcoms don’t know that much about it and assume you are just “app-boosting.” I quickly realized this when I was asked “so you’re an EMT?” in an unimpressed tone more than once. After replying that I was a paramedic I was always asked the difference and it always led to a conversation about how they never knew there were differences between medics and EMTs or EMT-volunteer and EMT-busy/paid etc. Said differently, some are desensitized to the fact that being an EMT is an actual career that people do for other reasons than getting an interview. If you have to choose between working in the ER and working on a truck that sees little work or only non-critical interfacility, you should choose ER. If you work emergency or critical care than you should choose between those and ER by which one you like more.

Now I went through all of that because it matters with how you approach research, shadowing, volunteering, and anything else. All of the stuff in the first paragraph maximizes your clinical exposure/experience. If you are around hospitals/doctors and with patients 50 hours a week, then I’m not so sure you need much shadowing–if any. I had none. But I pointed out that I worked in healthcare and had a more candid view of the day-to-day. No physicians “knew” that I was “shadowing” them so they acted more in their element and less like they knew some kid was shadowing them. You still need volunteering if you want to be the most competitive but if your job is clinical, you can get more creative. I tutor kids in a really bad neighborhood. It’s not clinical but as EMTs and medics we’ve run codes and seen a bunch of other stuff so I’m not sure there is much more “exposure” to be had (again, you have to point this out on all your apps because they wont know).

So my honest and imperfect advice would be to stop shadowing and start doing research. It is important. It doesn’t have to be in a lab splicing DNA. It can be clinical or public health. The point is to contribute to medicine. Try to find something you’re interested in. Use your contacts through the emergency world to get in on EM research if you’re interested in it. If not, take what you can get and move from there. No matter what, you have to be able to talk about your research meaningfully. Ask the person you work under for any papers published or reviews about what they are doing. Every interviewer will ask you to explain it to them at a level more than just “we are looking at what causes cancer.”

Final disclaimer: Some schools simply have boxes for each experience. Box-1 = shadowing, Box-2 = clinical volunteering etc. More boxes = more points = more competitive. If the school doesn’t take a “holistic” approach to admissions then you would benefit most by having something in each “box.” In order to do that, you should continue shadowing and clinical volunteering until you hit some arbitrary mark (100 hrs or something?) and then switch to research in place of one or both. The amount that you are doing right now is max and you should not add anything. You should only interchange stuff. Finally, none of this matters if you have bad grades so manage your time with that in mind.

Good luck and don’t hesitate to ask any more questions you have.

Thank you for the replies, I appreciate the points you raised.

Right now I am mainly working on non-critical transfers. I was working an extra shift a week, getting exposure to a high volume 911 system. I stepped back from that when I started to feel that it was interfering with my grades. I enjoy the work, but right now if I am honest I am focused much more on getting into medical school than I am on building a career in EMS. I was asked if I wanted to go for my paramedic cert and turned it down because I don’t have the desire to pursue it right now. Maybe a better way to say that is I would sooner devote my efforts into medical school rather than try and split my time.

Right now my volunteering and shadowing is being done to broaden my understanding and experience in healthcare. The doc I am shadowing works in a fairly busy clinic and I get to see how primary care works. My volunteering is in an infusion therapy center and it is interesting to see long term and on going therapies for patients. Both are showing me a very different perspective to healthcare than the one I see as an EMT.

From what you have said perhaps I should try and get some research experience over Summer. One of the professors at my college has mentioned more than once that there are research opportunities available. I think I am going to go and speak to him directly and see of I can arrange something for over the Summer semester.

I am always surprised how little recognition paramedics and EMT’s receive. I was a little surprised, and disappointed, to hear that adcoms weren’t aware of the role of paramedics. We could have a whole other thread as to why EMS has such a low profile/poor reputation compared to police or fire - that is for another forum though.

I have learned an awful lot about patient assessment, the state of the american health care system and patient care in general, from my short time as an EMT. I know it is valuable experience I just hope I am able to make the admissions folks see it as well.

I agree with everything you said.

I think it depends on the school and your goals. If you want to get your md/PhD, then of course you need a whole portfolio of research, and you should aim to be published for good measure… But otherwise, I think it’s a “nice to have” rather than a deal breaker.

I had some psych research on my app from my undergrad, but it was minimal, and it didn’t even come up in interviews.

Honestly, I wouldn’t sweat it. Sounds like you have your hands full!!

I went to a medical school panel discussion with medical students and deans of admissions yesterday. They said that having research does make one more competitive but it is not necessary. They all said that you can get into medical school without research.

However, if you do research, then you need at least a year of it and you must be able to document what you did and why. If you cannot document what you did (that is, by having a PI vouch for you) then don’t put it down as a major experience. Documentation to verify what you did is necessary. And the deans said they all check all references to verify authenticity.

Another reason to not put down research is, if research is not to your liking. One medical student said that he hated research, so he did not put it down – yet he still got into medical school.

I have some organic chemistry lab research experience, but I hated it, so I am not putting it down as a major reference. I also have a variety of medical anthropology field research experiences, which I absolutely love, but only some of them can be documented. I did some research on my own when I could not find any PI to oversee me (they were all out of the country). So, I was told to not put them down as primary research experiences unless I can get my research published or dovetail that research with the work of existing researchers in the field.

As far as the EMT experience. It is far too common for premeds to do EMT in order to “app boost” or look good, but it holds almost no weight with medical schools for improving admissions. Same for getting an MPH as a grade booster. Now, if you were to get an MPH and then work in the field for years doing meaningful public health work and then apply - that looks better. It is the intention of why EMT and why MPH that is the key here. If you get an EMT and then get a phlebotomy license and work as an ER tech, then that would be more useful and a bit more impressive.

LOL! My issue is the pubs I’m on are 12-13 years old. Not sure if that’ll help me or hurt me when I apply next year. We old fogies got all kinds of other stuff to deal with. lol

I met with the pre-med adviser at the college I am attending and he echoed the points raised here.

Basically research is useful, but not necessary. It is only helpful if it is over a prolonged period and is in an area of interest.

He shared something that he picked up on from a day spent at our local medical school. He was there observing the interview process, in particular the post interview deliberations on certain candidates. It was fairly obvious to the interviewers when candidates had undertaken certain activities, research or volunteering, just to “tick the box”. Obvious and not very well received.

Having advised premed students for 20 years and been the director of two different post-bac programs (Johns Hopkins and Goucher) I’d like to weigh in and provide some guidance. Students often ask if they need research to get into med school. What’s been posted previously is good information but I’d like to reiterate some of it, and perhaps a little more forcefully. If you do research just to say you’ve “done research” it will be patently obvious to the med schools that you’re doing it only because you think you have to do it. Doing research for a short period of time doesn’t teach you anything substantive. You need to do it over a long period to really understand it well and to contribute to it meaningfully. While you do not need research to get into med school, there are several reasons why it’s valuable (teaches you about the scientific process, enables you to understand more fully journal articles you’ll read in the future, engages you more fully with advances in science, etc). The vast majority of students I have advised have not done research and over 98% of them were admitted to med school. The only reason I mention this is to prove that you do not need research to get into med school.

Here’s a caveat, though: I have seen students who thought they had no interest in research actually engage in it–just to test it out–and then find that they love it. So you never know where it might lead. One student I advised discovered that she loved research and she wrote very compellingly in one of her med school application essays about what she learned from her experiments that failed–she learned much more from those than from the ones that succeeded. By the way, the term “research” also includes any research you might have done at the undergrad level (a thesis in the humanities, for example). It doesn’t necessarily have to be scientific to be valid.

I am thrilled to see this come up in the forums as it is a question I am asked everyday as professor and admissions consultant. I fear, perhaps, that many pre-meds are taking a narrow definition of “research.” It does not have to involve pipetting in the lab or creating mutant rats. In broad definition, research involves asking a question and solving it. I did history of science research as a pre-med and it went over very well in the admissions process. Further, when time is of the essence as it is with all non-traditional pre-meds, you can consider combining research with other activities. For example, you can be a volunteer for a clinical research project. This way you gain clinical experience and research experience all at the same time. I do think research is an essential part of becoming an exceptional physician, whether you go the MD or DO path. Remember, it’s not all about getting into school. It’s about being curious, exploring, doing what you love, and trying to become the best doctor you can be.