Research experience is a hot topic for premed students. Based on what you hear from your peers and guidance counselors, research experience is a pivotal part of your med school application. Some might say it’s a requirement.
Is research experience as important as everyone says it is? And more importantly, can you get into med school without research experience?
Yes, you can. I personally got into med school without any research experience at all. Some med schools care more about research experience than others but there are med schools out there that don’t care at all.
I remember being very stressed out because I had no research experience. I was scrambling to find something months before applying so I could put something on my application.
But I was unable to find anything worthwhile, so I ended up taking my chances and applying without any research. Anecdotally I couldn’t see any negative effect on my application, I did have other great extracurriculars to make up for it.
To make sure you are getting accurate information, I consulted with other students and experts on the matter so you aren’t relying only on my experience. In this article we will discuss:
- How important premed research experience is.
- How med schools will view research experience on your application.
- What to do if you have no research experience.
How Important Is Research Experience For Med School?
To understand how important research experience is for medical school, you have to understand what this experience demonstrates in an individual.
- Research experience develops your critical thinking abilities. In general, critical thinking is very important for medical schools. They want students who can go beyond memorizing information from a textbook. Can you take new data and use your scientific knowledge to figure out the answer?
- Med schools are looking for life-long learners. Becoming a doctor is more than just getting the degree in order to get a job. Good physicians are constantly learning to better themselves in their practice. Ideally, you would continue doing research through med school and beyond. Research experience as a premed demonstrates a curiosity for the sciences that you will embrace for the years to come.
- You develop a deeper understanding of the sciences. Learning biology and chemistry in a class setting can only do so much. When you take this basic knowledge and apply it to real-life examples, you will have a much greater understanding of the material. This is not only impressive for admission committees but also an asset for the MCAT!
- Research experience opens the door for MD/PhD programs. If you intend on applying to MD/PhD med school programs you will need some kind of research experience to demonstrate your willingness to continue researching. These programs are much more research-intensive than a traditional programs.
As mentioned before, research experience is NOT required to get into med school. However, understanding why med schools value research experience will help you decide what you need to do to bolster your application without it. Think about your experiences that overlap with the points listed above.
Do med schools care what kind of research you do?
By the way, your research does not have to be medically related. Any kind of research experience helps. Whatever field the research experience is in, you are still demonstrating the ability to think critically. In addition to this, you are still gaining experience in research techniques.
Do Med Schools Verify Research Hours?
Similar to volunteer hours, medical schools do not verify research hours as standard practice. However, if there is reason to believe you are not telling the truth, they could call and verify your hours.
As a general rule of thumb, lying to medical schools is never a good idea. Getting caught in a lie is devastating to your application. Remember, people in the med school industry communicate with one another. Therefore, your reputation could potentially be tarnished with a large list of med schools.
What Do You Say To Med Schools If You Don’t Have Any Research Experience?
Just be honest with the med school. It is totally legitimate to admit that you did not have the time to pursue a research opportunity. Maybe you were even busy with another extracurricular that you were more passionate about.
Additionally, the opportunity might not have been there. Not every university has great research facilities or connections to researchers.
What You Can Do Instead Of Research For Med School?
If you have little to zero research experience before med school, you should make sure other aspects of your application are strong. You need a competitive GPA and a good MCAT score. If you struggle in these areas as well, you should find ways to improve your GPA or follow a successful MCAT guide (We have a great MCAT 1-month guide you can check out here!).
Extracurriculars are extremely important. If you are lacking in research, you will need some other activities that impress your future interviewers. There are lots of things you can do besides research to fulfill the extracurricular part of your application.
Check out our guide on finding the BEST pre-med extracurricular for you!
The Kind Of Med Schools You Apply To Matters
Not every med school is the same. Different med schools will place emphasis on different parts of your application.
Some med schools will care a lot about research. When you consider how research-heavy med schools matriculate 90% of premeds with extensive research experience, you can see how lacking this kind of experience will hinder you.
Generally, it’s Ivy League med schools like Yale or Stanford that will place more emphasis on these categories.
But if your goal is to be a physician, the med school you attend doesn’t matter. You just need to get in. Once in, you’ll have another opportunity to perform well and get matched into a residency that will lead you to a fruitful career as a doctor.
If you have no research experience, look through the MSAR and find schools that don’t emphasize it as much.
How To Get Research Experience Quickly For Med School
If you have some time before the med school application cycle opens up and you want to obtain some research experience quickly, here is what you can do.
- First, ask your biology/chemistry advisor for help. This is the easiest way to land some research experience. Most of the time, your university will have some kind of research opportunity on campus or have some connection to a research opportunity off campus.
- Reach out to your network outside of college. Did you shadow a physician? Ask them if they know of any research opportunities. Also, if you had some kind of scribing or clinically related job at a hospital, you could ask your program director for any possible research connections.
- Cold outreach. When you have exhausted your school and network contacts, pick up the phone and start calling research facilities. Explain that you are a pre-med student interested in any kind of research opportunity. You may need to consider unpaid volunteer options.