The reality is that pre-med research isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a component of a successful application. Of course, in many cases, bolstering a medical school application with a publication or two can be helpful, but that doesn’t mean you should sign up to do bench research if it’s not something you’re actually interested in.
We’ve covered the topic of gaining research experience numerous times, but what if pre-med research just isn’t for you?
Before throwing in the towel, do some research on research experience: Ask whether it’s relevant to your medical career. When you think of what’s involved in scientific lab work and clinical research—the kind that will help you get into medical school—the stereotypical image is that of a scientist clad in a white coat and safety goggles, dripping chemicals into flasks and swirling them around to discover the cure for cancer.
For some, this may seem like a medical dream job. For others, the idea of spending your life in the lab is less than exciting. It’s helpful to remember that there’s a vast array of options that all count as research experience when filling out your medical school application.
Traveling to South Africa and studying the ways that HIV affects the urban poor in Johannesburg, working with the CDC in Atlanta to map out the economic impact of ebola on Western Africa, or working on a trial for a new method for educating a community about safe sexual practices, for example, are all considered research.
If you’re interested in a particular medical field, you can bet that someone out there is too and that a research opportunity exists. Get out there and find what inspires you. You’d be surprised by what you can turn into a research project or a published paper.
Even after doing your research on types of research experience, you may still find you have little interest in the prospect—and that’s perfectly acceptable. Only a fraction of practicing physicians actively conduct research, and it’s not something that is going to severely hamstring your future career in medicine.
If you’re flat-out uninterested in doing research to enhance your medical school application, there are some strategies you should adopt to improve your chances of acceptance:
You’re likely to be asked in your medical school interview why you didn’t elect to participate in research. Have your response ready. “Bench research is just not for me,” is a valid answer, but they may counter with an example of non-bench research. Be it financial, time constraint, or work related, have a reason ready for why you didn’t choose to go down the clinical research path.
If your MCAT score is stellar, read no further. If it’s borderline, take the time to improve it. Your GPA, volunteer hours, and letters of recommendation aren’t going to change, but putting 300 hours into improving your MCAT score is the one surefire thing to move your application from the discard pile to the “must interview” pile.
Research takes a lot of time, so if you’re not going to participate in it, use that time wisely. Pursue your passions by volunteering medically, shadowing more, taking a wider variety of classes, or gaining global health experience. All of these will show your interviewer that even though you didn’t do research, you’re still interested in the field of medicine and in learning. In other words, demonstrate that you’re not just too lazy to gain research experience.
As always, remember that a better MCAT score is the one thing that can turn a mediocre applicant into a stellar one, so if you opt out of research experience, don’t neglect your MCAT prep. Research is only one small slice of your medical school application, but your MCAT score is the main course.
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