If you are considering applying for residency one of the ways to increase your ‘retainability’ is by making your resume well rounded. Research experience can add some advantage when you are applying for residency.
When to start?
The sooner you start working on it, the better! As an IMG, getting enough research opportunities are difficult. There are several hurdles on the way to increase the chances of landing a good research experience. Waiting until the last minute almost always does not work. The best-published and successful research experience is often cultivated through painstaking efforts, early.
How to start?
There are 2 ways to apply for research
1. Apply to a graduate school - MPH, MHA, MS, PhD etc
2. Volunteer research positions
Grad school route: If you are to apply to a graduate school (You will get an F1 visa from the university) then there is no limit to who you can approach and ask for research guidance. All the teaching and research faculty on the campus are potential employers and you can approach them for a RA (research assistant position). I have seen MPH folks who did research in department of nursing (clinical research regarding in hospital related infection rates etc) and MHA (Masters in health admin) folks get RA jobs with dept. of biomedical Engg. You can also approach the faculty of the university freely if you are pursuing a degree. It is hard, I know, as it involves additional time (1-2 years) on part of the applicant (time that they may not already have - year of graduation etc)
Volunteer research route: This is for those who do not want to commit to graduate school for a year or two. It gets tougher in this category as you are not presented with that many opportunities for doing research. It all depends on how much leg work you do to land a job. Then there are visa restrictions on who can be employed and who can volunteer, therefore one has to know your limitations and then apply accordingly. check out some volunteer RA jobs --> here
Finding a good project
- Think about what aspect of research you are most interested in, e.g. cardiology, neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, child health etc.
- Find a faculty member with a specialization in that particular field. Go to the state and local universities around your residence and read up about the work done by the faculty. Do you homework and read up about the interests of the principal investigator (PI) before you go for the next step
- Contact the faculty member of your choice to see if they are willing to work with you and what kind of research opportunities there are. Write a short, impressive letter, include a short CV (see my post about CVs for residency applicants) and shoot it off to the professors and faculty of university before the interview.check out Sample letter asking for research experience opportunities
- Typically, scientists are happy to talk about their research so don’t feel shy in approaching the faculty. Make sure you correspond with them, set up a time, and date for the ‘interview’.
- Once you like a project and are selected to work in a lab or group. Be consistent, regular and dependable. Have a strong work ethic and participate as much as you can. Who knows, if you impress the faculty well enough, you may even get a US LOR from a scientist researcher or a publication and this will boost your application manifold.
As for the question of how important is research for IMGs to match one must balance the entire CV and present the best foot forward to ensure the best success in the residency process