Research: A Doctor’s Perspective

7 June 2021

Do you need research for a competitive residency application? Here’s what a med graduate has to say about research in med school.

Research is a hot topic in the medicine world, and something we get a lot of questions about here at OzTREKK. What are some of the most common questions we get?

  • What kind of research opportunities are available to me during medical school?
  • How much research should be done for a competitive residency application?
  • What type of research should I do?
UQ medicine graduate Dr Balzer
UQ Faculty of Medicine graduate Dr Balzer

We asked Dr. Nathan Balzer, a University of Queensland Faculty of Medicine graduate and current emergency medicine resident in Toronto, to weigh in on the topic of research.

Must an IMG have done research to get a residency spot in Canada?
“Essentially, I don’t fully endorse the usual proclamation that as an IMG you must have done research to get a residency spot in Canada. From my experience, I have found that applications are generally split into three components: test scores, clinical acumen/skills, and research.

“There are a variety of approaches to a competitive application, and I think many students (falsely) portray themselves as proficient in all three components listed above. There are only so many hours in a day, and it is up to each student to decide how to use them.

“If you are putting a ton of time into clinical practice, then you’re spending more hours (and brainpower) while in hospital. This tends to lead to strong reference letters and overall proficiency as a doctor. However, time spent doing more hours of clinical work and electives means naturally less time for extracurriculars such as research.

“Study is always a component as well and I think it strongly aligns with the clinical aspects of a program and can lead to higher scores and clinical proficiency.”

What if research is what I love most?
“If you love or are interested in research, then great! Take the opportunity to really get involved and learn while undertaking it. Research is certainly a valuable component that can gain you additional points in your residency application.

“However, it’s important that the time you put into research is worth it. For research to contribute to a competitive application, you should be the first or second author and ideally have presented or been published.

“Canadian universities won’t put much stock in tagging onto research as a fourth author and they want you to own your research. Doing 30 small case reports as third author means far less to many programs than a single proper study that you authored—especially if you published and/or presented it.

“Clinical and exam components are critical to becoming a great doctor, and research is a nice addition. I would encourage students to ensure they are strong in these areas and add research if it’s something they can author and present and are interested in.”

Do what is of most interest to you!
“Overall, research is a great skill and a good point to have on an application, but don’t feel it’s make or break. I encourage students to do things that they find interesting and that they feel will make them a better physician.

“I personally did not feel particularly compelled to do research and never quite found something that interested me enough to pour time into, so I focused heavily on the clinical and examination components and matched to my first choice in a competitive specialty. I certainly was prepared to address why I had not done research in my interviews (and I was, in fact, asked about that in a third of my interviews).”

As you can see, the answers to questions surrounding research are not black and white. Being aware of your own strengths, interests, and capacity will serve you well.

As Dr. Balzer said, “It is important to focus on all aspects of becoming a great doctor.”

For some this will involve a focus on research, but it doesn’t have to!

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Do you need help with your medical school application? Please contact OzTREKK’s Australian Medical Schools Admissions Officer at [email protected].

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