Research experience and publications are important for keeping international medical graduates worldwide up-to-date and helping them give the best care possible.
During the USMLE journey, IMGs are confronted with the question of their research and publishing experience.
As the residency match gets more competitive each year, research experiences and published work can considerably boost one’s residency application.
However, many IMGs are unfamiliar with the processes of conducting research and getting a paper published.
There are, of course, numerous paths to doing research and getting published, including applying for research positions in the US.
However, as it’s only an option for some IMGs, I’d like to share alternative research and publication methods.
Let’s dive in!
Research experience VS individual research
First, it’s crucial to distinguish between research and publication.
What I mean by that is, only some research results in publication and only some publications count as the result of research experience on a resume.
So, what is the difference, and why does it count?
Research experience is any professional or academic research done while working for an institution.
In other words, it implies that you hold or were holding a position in an establishment.
Besides potentially publishing the results of your work, research experience has many advantages, including the following:
- You’ll benefit from the guidance and experience of mentors and fellows, which is especially helpful if you have no experience with research and publishing.
- Positive impact on a resume and ERAS application, regardless of whether or not the research resulted in publication.
- Opportunities to make connections.
Depending on whether it’s funded research or unfunded research, the flip sides of both research experiences are that:
- Unfunded research proposes only unpaid positions. Therefore, you’ll have to sustain yourself financially throughout the research experience.
- Funded research offers paid positions. However, there are fewer positions for a large pool of applicants, and it usually requires applicants to have previous research experience and a solid resume to be considered.
What are the remaining options for IMGs who cannot sustain themselves financially to apply for unfunded research and do not have enough research experience to apply for funded research?
One answer to this question is – Individual Research!
So, what do we mean by individual research?
Individual research can be conducted without working with an institution and results in the publication of an article.
Individual research won’t be considered as research experience; however, it’s a good compromise for IMGs and an excellent opportunity to acquire the skills to conduct research and get more familiar with the process of getting published.
So, what are the key elements of conducting individual research?
Which study type best fits individual research?
As you won’t hold a position in an institution, you won’t have access to a laboratory or direct access to patients to conduct the study.
Therefore, the most straightforward way to run individual research is to work on existing data, which results in either conducting a Systematic Review or a Meta-Analysis.
The systematic review:
A systematic review involves the collecting, critical assessment, and synthesis of previous research on a particular topic.
A meta-analysis is a systematic scientific approach that, using a repeatable process, combines the findings of numerous independent investigations on a specific issue. It’s a statistical synthesis of the research that was a part of a systematic review. By analyzing many cases and reaching a general conclusion, meta-analysis enables a more accurate interpretation of the data.
Here are some links that will guide you in the process of conducting a meta-analysis or a systematic review:
- A Meta-Analytic Methodology Guide from frontiersin.org
- A very interesting article on how to run a systematic review from ncbi
From topic selection to publication
Once you have decided which type of study you want to conduct, it’s time to start taking concrete actions.
So, where do you start?
Select a subject
This step is crucial and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Taking the time to select the appropriate topic is vital. You don’t want to invest time and effort into something only to realize halfway through that your chosen topic is irrelevant and unfeasible.
So, what is a good subject?
Ideally, the topic you decide to investigate should revolve around an interest of yours. For example, if you are interested in dermatology, look for a subject in that field.
Also, writing articles in the field you want to work in will help your application significantly.
Once you have defined the field you want to research, you’ll have to clarify the research question, which is, in my experience, the trickiest part!
To determine the research question, you must first go through what’s already been done and what new questions the researchers have brought to light.
Reading the trending articles in Pubmed or highly-accessed journals can help you in this step and familiarize you with how research is conducted, how results are presented, how a paper is written, and so on.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to doctors or medical residents in your home country or elsewhere to ask about what subject they think is worth investigating.
I recommend you use the PICO method to formulate a research question.
What are the steps to publish a paper?
Form a team:
Although we’re talking about “individual” research, publishing a paper is a result of collective work.
As you determine the tasks that need to be accomplished to achieve the goals of your study, you can start reaching out to individuals who possess the necessary skills and establish clear roles and responsibilities for each team member, as well as a system for communication and collaboration.
With your team, you’ll have to complete the following steps:
Conduct a literature review:
Conducting a literature review will allow you to highlight what’s already been established and documented, and confront the study you’re conducting with the previous one.
Define the design of the study:
Your research design is like your house’s foundation: Essential.
Study design refers to the methods used to collect and analyze the data and ultimately represent the quality of your work.
Collect the data and do a statistical analysis:
The data correspond to the articles selected to be integrated into your systematic review and meta-analysis.
Once you have collected all the data, you will have to do a statistical analysis of the results.
Although you can task a statistician to do the statistical analysis, I highly recommend you learn and do it yourself as you will acquire a new valuable skill and get a better ,broader perspective of the study you are conducting.
While writing, pay special attention to the following:
- Vocabulary and grammatical errors
Do not hesitate to ask mentors or fellows to proofread your work, or use professional tools to assist your writing, such as Grammarly.
But remember that it’s not enough to proofread with this kind of tool. It’s better to seek assistance from a professional proofreader who’s a native English speaker. Feel free to contact us as we work with several native writers.
Identify a journal
The final step of your publication journey is to identify a journal where you want your work to be published.
However, don’t be too quick to shout victory, as this step can be daunting.
Once you’ve identified a list of potential journals, I recommend you read their specific guidelines to ensure your research fits within the journal’s scope before submitting your work.
Keep in mind that some journals have a longer turnaround than others and that the process can take many months. With that in mind, choose a journal that aligns with your timeline for publication.
How to make it to the next level
Besides maximizing your chances of getting matched with your dream specialty, getting published is a unique opportunity to learn, acquire new skills, and make new connections.
As you define a study question worth investigating, use it as an opportunity to contact doctors who have conducted studies on a related topic and, if possible, suggest a collaboration.
Email the institution you want to apply to with your project study, motivations, goals, and an attached resume.
Again, this is not just about getting published to put it on ERAS, but rather a chance to start taking action and building a network.
Besides good scores and US clinical experience, research and publications have become much more important in the matching process.
Since getting a research position might not always be an accessible option for all IMGs, individual research represents an excellent compromise to get started in research and publishing.
Selecting the appropriate subject and acquiring the necessary skills to publish your first piece of work is key in the USMLE journey. It will help you match
with your dream specialty, and it also presents a unique opportunity to start reaching out to hospitals and making new connections.