When I was applying to med school, I was really stressed out about research hours. Why?
Well because I basically didn’t have any.
The only research I ever did in undergrad was this random project one of my bio professors had. It didn’t amount to much at all, the whole assignment pretty much fell through. I think I did 1 hour of sterilizing lab equipment before never going back.
It was such a small amount of experience that I didn’t even include it on my application. The amount of time I put in was laughable.
This meant that for med school I essentially had zero hours of research experience.
But guess what? I got into med school.
I got in without any research experience. If you stumbled upon this post, you are looking for the answer to: “How many hours of research experience do you need for med school?”
Well, I guess the answer is technically 0 hours.
But there’s a lot more to it. Not every med school has the same requirements and not every med school applicant is the same.
Let’s dive deeper so that you can make the best judgment for your own situation.
What Percent Of Premed Students Have Research Experience Before Applying?
According to the AAMC’s data for the 2022 application cycle, 46.8% of med school applicants had research experience. This means that almost 55% of students had no research experience when applying to med school.
That’s a huge chunk of students.
And when we surveyed pre-med students, we found a similar percentage of applicants with zero research experience (More on the survey below).
This sheer number guarantees that research experience is not required for becoming a doctor.
The Average Number of Research Hours Premed Students Have Before Applying (SURVEY)
Unfortunately, there aren’t any current surveys on the number of research hours anymore. However, the AAMC has posted this data in the past.
According to the AAMC a few years ago, the average number of research hours applicants had when applying to med school was 1251.
Wow. Seem like a high number right? Don’t worry, there’s more to this story.
This Reddit user actually reached out to the AAMC for information on this particular study and this is what they said:
Two important points here:
- The hours were for matriculants only, not all applicants.
- Lab course hours were also included (This one is huge because every premed takes multiple lab classes).
This 1251 number is very inflated for these reasons alone. Another important point is that this number is an average. Students that had thousands of hours from a graduate program or full-time job were also included.
We conducted our own survey to see if our results were similar to what the AAMC was telling us.
These numbers come from students who applied to med school. Some ended up getting in and some did not. Here are the results:
Surprisingly, most students had little to no research hours. However, a good chunk of students had several thousand hours which definitely skews the numbers if you were to take the average.
Students that had a lot of research hours were generally interested in the MD/PHD route. Also, most of these students were out of school and involved in full-time research jobs.
What counts as research experience for med school?
Research experience for medical school means actively getting involved in scientific research. Admissions committees like it because it shows that you can think critically, analyze information, and contribute to medical knowledge.
Here are some examples of research experiences that medical schools like:
- Laboratory Research: Working in a lab, doing experiments, and helping with things like collecting and analyzing data. This can be in subjects like biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or pharmacology.
- Clinical Research: Taking part in studies that involve people, looking at patient information, or being involved in clinical trials. This might include finding volunteers, gathering data, or studying medical records.
- Translational Research: Doing research that connects scientific discoveries with how they can be used in real medical settings. It’s about figuring out how to apply scientific findings in practical ways.
- Literature Review and Meta-analysis: Reading lots of scientific papers and combining the information from different studies to learn more about a specific topic. This shows that you can understand and evaluate scientific information.
- Presentations and Publications: Sharing your research by presenting it at conferences or publishing papers in scientific journals. This can really boost your application and show that you can explain scientific ideas effectively.
- Research Fellowships: Joining special research programs or fellowships, like summer research programs, where you work closely with experienced researchers and learn different aspects of research.
Quality Of Research Is More Important Than Quantity
When medical school admissions committees look at your research experience, they care more about how involved you were in the research rather than how many projects you did or how much time you spent on them.
They want to see that you were deeply engaged in the research, understood the scientific concepts and methods, and made meaningful contributions.
Here are some important things they look for:
- Depth of Involvement: They like to see that you really got into the research project and understood it well.
- Meaningful Contributions: It’s valuable to show that you made significant contributions to the research. This could include designing experiments, analyzing data, or drawing important conclusions. They want to see that you played an active role.
- Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Research helps you develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are very important in medicine. Admissions committees are interested in candidates who can show that they can analyze complex problems, think creatively, and come up with solutions.
- Impact and Results: Although it’s difficult as a premed student to get publicly recognized for research, you should look for opportunities to be included on any published works.
It’s not about having a long list of research experiences. What matters more is the depth, quality, and impact of your research involvement.
Further Reading: Everything a Premed Student Needs To Know About Shadowing A Doctor
Long-Term Commitment Is More Important Than The Number Of Hours
Like most premed extracurriculars, long-term commitment is more important than the number of hours you put in. For example, a one-year-long research opportunity is more valuable than 5 different month-long opportunities.
How Do I Get Experience In Medical Research As A Premed Student?
As a premed student, it may seem difficult to get involved in any “legit” research opportunities. But it’s actually not as complicated as you think. Here are some examples to help you get started:
- Talk to professors and researchers: Approach professors and researchers at your university who are involved in medical research. Introduce yourself, express your interest in gaining research experience, and ask if they have any positions or opportunities for students like you.
- Volunteer in research labs: Many research labs at universities and medical centers offer volunteer positions for premed students. Look up volunteer opportunities in research labs online or by calling facilities. Getting started as a volunteer can lead to paid opportunities!
- Explore summer research programs: Lots of medical facilities and universities have programs specifically for undergraduate students interested in medical research. Look online or ask your university’s premed or research departments about these programs.
- Join research-focused student organizations: Lots of schools have student organizations dedicated to research or specific scientific fields. Joining these groups can give you access to research opportunities, workshops, seminars, and networking events.
- Use online research databases: Explore online platforms like ResearchGate, LinkedIn, or university research portals that connect students interested in research with researchers. These websites often advertise available research positions or projects for undergraduates.
- Take relevant courses: Enroll in courses that teach research skills or scientific methods. The general premed prerequisites are a good start but try looking into classes that are even more specific about research.
- Attend research conferences and seminars: Participate in research conferences, seminars, or scientific symposiums. These events allow you to learn about the latest research, meet professionals, and potentially find mentors for your research.
Persistence is important. Research opportunities can be competitive, so don’t be discouraged if you face initial rejections.
Keep trying different methods and eventually, you will find something!
How Much Research Do You Need For Medical School?
Every med school is going to have its own requirements for research experience. The vast majority of them are not going to have a strict hour requirement but rather they will “strongly recommend” you have research experience.
If you are applying to a med school that is research focused, you will need to have some kind of research experience under your belt. But again, the hours are not the most important part.
The quality of your research experience is more important.
The Wholistic Med School Application
I’m going to conclude this article by saying that med schools look at your med school application holistically.
It’s important that you don’t get fixated on checking off every box possible. Doing this often leads to mediocre and “average” applications.
Rather, focus on doing things that make you stand out. The best way to do this is by doing extracurricular activities that you are motivated in.
When you are passionate about your work, this will reflect in your application.
Also, don’t forget that academics and your MCAT score are very important. When you are lacking in these areas, you will need other aspects of your application to stand out.
When you build your med school application, ask yourself this question: “Am I going to stand out from the 1000s of other applications?” If your application hits all the important things but just seems average in each category, then the answer is probably not.