Research during medical school is a highly valuable but optional part of the overall education of a physician. Pediatricians that have experience with research gain skills that can help them critically analyze and apply the medical literature. Research skills offer you important ways to express a commitment to medicine and to improving the health of the children you serve. Finally, experience obtained through meaningful research in medical school may spark a passion for a career as a clinician scientist or academic pediatrician, laying an important foundation for residency, fellowship training, and beyond.

Pediatrics offers many exciting opportunities in research, including basic science research, epidemiology, translational research, clinical research, quality improvement, and pediatric health services research. Pediatric clinician scientists are growing in numbers due to increased funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Common Research Questions:

How Might Research During Medical School Help Me Excel in a Career in Pediatrics? You may have the opportunity or even be expected to do some research in residency, thus having the experience as a student can give you a head start on a clear idea for a pediatric research project, or at least provide insight toward a general research topic of interest. It may even position you to be competitive for research funding. If you are interested in a career in subspecialty pediatrics, most fellowships require their trainees to complete a research requirement to become board certified in that subspecialty. While a meaningful research experience can certainly enhance a student's application for residency in pediatrics, it is not essential, and you should only pursue a research opportunity that sincerely interests you.

When During Medical School Could I Participate in Research? If you didn’t start a research project during your MS1 summer, there are still opportunities for research electives during your third or fourth year of school. Some medical schools provide the option for an additional fifth year, with opportunities (and sometimes an expectation) that students will get involved in research in some way. Some medical schools have support available for student-led community-based research or a student research day for you to present your findings. Other schools have complete research tracks in which you can focus your study.

How Can I Find Research Opportunities? The best way to begin your search for research opportunities is to think about questions that interest you.

  • Have you always been intrigued by new lab techniques and questions about biology, chemistry, or physiology? Then basic science research holds opportunities for you.
  • Do you want to explore how health policy affects the provision of care for large numbers of children and families? Health services research may hold the key.
  • Do you wonder about the connections between science and clinical practice? The growing field of translational research may help you build this bridge.

Once you have an area of interest, seek out a mentor or advisor in the department of pediatrics, inquire about research opportunities at a pediatric interest group meeting, and visit your school's department of research or office of student affairs. During your fourth year of medical school, you may have additional opportunities for experiences in research.

What Sources of Funding Are Available to Support Medical Students Who Do Research? Some professional groups offer small grants or funding for students to present research at professional meetings.

  • Medical School Intramural Grants: Some medical schools offer small intramural grants for medical student research, available through your research office.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics: Provides funding for resident research through the Resident Research Grant program (login required).  Students may be able to collaborate with a resident on a project funded through this program or obtain research experience that will position them well to apply for their own grant support when they are residents.
  • Society for Pediatric Research: Offer a medical student research program that provides 8 to 12 weeks of funding for medical students who want to extend their education by working in research laboratories.
  • Society for Teachers of Family Medicine: Provides some support for medical students to attend meetings to present their work, and students interested in pediatrics may find rewarding collaborations with students interested in family medicine.
  • Search out faculty who have research funding for their own work. Faculty are often seeking out students to assist with their research.

What About Other Extramural Funded Programs? Most offices of student affairs or research at medical schools provide lists of extramural grant funded initiatives that aim to increase student participation and careers in research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have summer fellowships available, for example. These are competitive programs, so you should investigate early and give yourself plenty of time to complete the application and obtain letters of support from your faculty, offices of student affairs, or past research mentors.

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American Academy of Pediatrics