By Erica Emmons, MS3, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Whether you are applying to residency or just beginning your medical career, the topic of research has likely arisen. There are two conflicting sentiments: the urge to get started with research and the need to pick a specialty to focus research within that field. A common misconception is that a student must perform research within Interventional Radiology to become a competitive applicant. Fortunately, this is not true. To dispel this myth, we will first discuss some of the reasons why IR research is encouraged, and then address the benefits of non-IR research. Hopefully after reading this, you will feel empowered to continue the research that you are already engaged in or be motivated to get started!
Pursuing research within the field of IR is beneficial because it provides access to IR personnel, exposure to the breadth of the field, and allows for you to show a dedication to the specialty. Arguably, one of the key steps of successfully pursuing a career in IR is finding good mentorship. A mentor can help navigate the intricacies of picking a residency path, find research opportunities that fit your interests, and provide motivational support as you begin your career. Getting involved with IR research can quickly provide you with exposure to the department and an opportunity to work with different people in the field. From departmental research meetings to traveling to conferences, you will meet the physicians, researchers, and professionals in IR. Not only can this help you to find a mentor, but it will also help you determine whether your personality fits into IR culture.
In addition to the opportunity to meet the range of personalities in IR, you will also gain exposure to the scope of the field. From clinical to industrial to basic science research, there are many areas and topics to pursue. To select an area of interest, you should consider which questions you want to answer, and what boundaries you want to push forward in the field of IR. Your project could be a stepping-stone to inspire your future career path.
Finally, IR-centric research allows you to tangibly demonstrate dedication to the field. Whether you have been considering a career in IR since the start of medical school or you have just recently found the field, IR programs take note when students show an interest in the field that is founded upon experience. Being able to talk about the field through research experience can help you convey why the field is appealing to you and how you plan to advance the field.
If you have not performed IR related research, do not fear. There are plenty of skills that you have obtained from research in other areas of medicine that can make you an exceptional candidate. By no means do program directors expect that all of their applicants will have IR-specific research, nor do they feel that students with research in non-IR fields are disadvantaged. Through your endeavor in any kind of research, you can highlight qualities that will make you a valuable asset to residency programs: effective team player, ability to meet deadlines, intellectual curiosity, an understanding of scientific literature, and perhaps some expertise from other fields.
Teamwork is critical to medicine, and research experience teaches you how to actively participate and contribute as a team member. Since research occurs in multiple steps, bringing a project to completion requires working closely with many different people. The process is also a valuable exercise for how to clearly communicate your needs to others – whether for IRB approval, for obtaining funding, or just for another pair of eyes to read over your results and conclusions. There is also reciprocity in research; while you may ask for help in the proofreading process, you may also be called upon to review another study. Excelling in research signals to program directors that you have the skills and experience to contribute clinically and academically as a team member.
Research also teaches you about time management and how to work efficiently to bring your project to publication. Time management is critical because steps in the research process often takes longer than expected. To successfully complete a project, you must be able to balance your coursework with your research deadlines. Seeing your project through from start to finish, even if it is a smaller project, may be better than having your time divided between several uncompleted projects. Bringing your project to fruition shows program directors you are reliable, committed, and disciplined.
Another personality trait that research can highlight is intellectual curiosity. Research questions stem from a desire to continually improve the field, overcome hurdles, or understand why things happen. Your scientific questions during medical school do not have to focus on IR for you to demonstrate that you are able to ask thoughtful and clinically relevant questions. Digging into your own research to identify these questions indicates that you can recognize the limitations of the field and push the boundaries through your scientific work.
Even if you choose not to stay in an academic setting after residency, the ability to digest scientific literature gained from research will serve you well. Especially in the rapidly evolving realm of IR, residency programs aim for its residents to emerge as competent physicians who are knowledgeable about the changing practices of their field. Research articles form the backbone of practice guidelines. Being able to understand and analyze these studies help you make well-informed decisions.
Furthermore, research experience from other areas medicine can help you become a more versatile interventional radiologist. Interventional radiologists work closely with specialists from many areas of medicine. Even if you do not encounter your specific research topic in the future, your knowledge of how another field approaches these problems can be a great asset to the team.
In your search of the ideal research project, it is most important to find a project that you are interested in and enjoy. If you have a genuine curiosity to seek the answer to your research question, then it will not matter what field your research is in because you will learn skills that will be highly valued. The process will also hopefully cultivate a lasting interest in advancing medicine.
If you are interested in how to get started in IR related research, please take a look at one of our earlier articles: http://rfs.sirweb.org/2016/06/02/getting-started-in-ir-research/
Best of luck to you all – stay inquisitive!