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Sorta Random Sunday: How to Crush Research in Medicine

This post is all of my advice on how to crush research in medicine as a medical student, resident, or even attending.

I just finished my training in plastic surgery in June 2020. It consisted of a 6 year residency and a 1 year fellowship in microsurgery. Before that, I did 4 years of medical school.

medicine research

In that time, I really came to love research.

Let me clarify, I love clinical research. I am not a fan of sitting in a lab and pipetting stuff research. But that’s just me. If you like that type of research, more power to you!

Anyway, research in medicine has become somewhat of a prerequisite for medical students looking to match into residency and even for trainees looking for jobs. It’s even a prerequisite for certain attending physicians to advance their career and salary. Especially in a competitive field like plastic surgery.

So, getting good at research is important for you career-wise and even potentially finance wise.

That makes it a nice intersection for this type of a post!

What do I know about research?

I came to research and my medical field a bit late. It wasn’t really until the mid to end of my 3rd year of medical school. This is late in the game for plastic surgery.

As such, when I started residency, I had published a total of 0 (zero, nil, nada) papers and presented at the same amount of conferences.

But, when I finished residency, I had published over 60 manuscripts and presented at even more conferences.

And I made that huge jump simply by following the guidelines that I’m going to give you right here. Trust me, I’m no smarter or anything than you (ask anyone!). So if I can do it, so can you!

How to crush research in medicine

1. Find a mentor

Seems obvious and it is. Find someone who has really been successful at research. Especially the kids of research that you like and want to do. They can be above your level; below your level or a colleague. Learn and emulate them.

My research mentors included Peter Koltz, Mike Alperovich, Nolan Karp, Mihye Choi and many more.

An awesome resource as well isĀ The Match Guy. He is a plastic surgery resident at Pitt who has an incredibly impressive research resume and helps others accomplish the same!

2. Do the dirty work

When you start out doing research, you won’t get the glory of doing all the fun stuff.

You need to do the grunt work first. I knew this. So I tried to be the best at grunt work. For me, this was data collection and chart review and combing through spreadsheets. It wasn’t a ton of fun necessarily but I knew if I did this well, I would get asked to help in more projects. And eventually I’d start doing the other stuff.

3. Finish each task in 1 week or less

This was how I showed that I was interested, trustworthy, and a good team member.

When a resident or attending would ask me to help with some part of a research project, my goal was always to have it back to them within a week. This showed them that I could get sh*t done. And get it done well.

It also made them much more likely to ask me to help with other projects.

4. Build a good team

As you get busier and busier, you will need to find others to help you. Find people who you like to work with and that have a similar work ethic. Make sure they also know how to get sh*t done.

You started our as someone’s partner, now you are going to transition into their role and find someone else to fill your shoes. This is how research grows exponentially.

5. Learn to write

It might seem weird for someone who runs a blog but I used to hate to write. Honestly, learning to write from wiring research manuscripts taught me to love writing. Which inadvertently led me to starting this blog. Funny how things work out…

If you write well, you will get more opportunities. The best way to practice is by doing. Read stuff that your mentor writes for research. Then start asking to write parts of the manuscript yourself. Ask for feedback. The more you do, the better you will get.

6. Learn statistics

If you can. It honestly makes it so much easier when you don’t have to wait and rely on a statistics service or someone else to run at least simple tests.

I taught myself basic statistics just by going online and reading and running them on free calculators.

7. Try to enjoy it

It really helps if you are passionate about the research that you are doing.

But honestly, for many, research may be a means to an end. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it.

Find ways to create joy. Think about the people you are helping through this research. Think about the people you get to work with. Maybe you enjoy traveling to conferences and meeting other researchers.

There’s always something!

8. Don’t get discouraged

Like anything, there is no success without failure. I’ve had so many manuscript rejections that I’ve lost count!

But you just use those rejections to improve your work, re-submit, and get it accepted elsewhere. And then your future manuscripts get even better as a result of that process.

Don’t take it personally. Just keep working.

Remember, the key to success is persistence.

And that, my friends, is how you can crush research in medicine!

I hope you’re enjoying my random musing and finding some of it perhaps even a little useful! If you have any ideas for other topics, let me know!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected]

    5 thoughts on “Sorta Random Sunday: How to Crush Research in Medicine”

    1. Perfect timing for this post. I am starting a plastic surgery research fellowship this summer at one of the top programs in the country. You went from zero publications as a 3rd year medical student to publishing 60 manuscripts by the end of residency! The real question is, how did you match into plastic surgery without pubs?!

      Good post:)

      Reply
      • There were certainly those who suggested I should take time off to do research. But I bet on myself. I studied and did very well on the Step exams and also made sure that I nailed my sub I rotations to get the best letters of recommendation. I think those LOR are the most important variable.

        Reply

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