|Dr. Schulman is a urologic oncology fellow at Duke Medical Center, Durham, NC|
“Research” brings up a spectrum of sentiments among trainees. For some, it is simply a prerequisite, while for others, it sets the foundation for an academic career. A yearly project is usually required by most programs, but actual training in research practices varies in both quality and quantity. Similarly, the pre-existing skill set of residents is highly variable.
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) requires that some members of a faculty demonstrate scholarship through obtaining funding, publication of articles, presentation at society meetings, and/or participation in national committees or educational organizations. The American Board of Urology defines the minimum time in training and case requirements, but research requirements are left to the discretion of each program director.
Across all programs, there are several steps individual residents can employ to make research a positive experience that enhances training. Here are seven general strategies I have found useful:
Be proactive. Projects related to my own ideas and initiatives have always been more fulfilling, better received by faculty, and more clinically relevant then those assigned to me by others. Identify your own interests and look for “gaps” in knowledge that need to be addressed. Direct your research activities to these areas. Look for mentors and resources with similar interests.
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Find good mentorship. It is critical to identify mentors that have successfully integrated research activities into clinical practice. Interestingly, successful academic clinicians have widely diverse skills and interests. In other words, there is not one recipe for success. Aligning yourself with someone you can relate to is often more fruitful. Also, it is critical to differentiate mentors whose career you would like to emulate from those who can help you bring projects to completion through ideas, resources, and relationships. Ideally, you should find both.
Start early and create a long-term timeline. Research activities, both basic science and clinical, take time to develop. If you are starting a new project, administrative processes alone can take several months. I try to consider new projects on a 9- to 15-month timeline including a target meeting for presentation and manuscript for publication. Display submission deadlines in a visible place to keep projects moving ahead.