This is a guest post by Ayesha Yahya.  Ayesha has been involved in research throughout medical school and shares some pearls with us about the process.   She has recently matched to the Wellspan Orthopedic Surgery Residency in York and will start in 2017. 


Someone once told me, “If research were easy, everyone would do it.” Orthopedic research has played a big role in my career but while many think of it as another hoop to jump through, it can really be more than getting your name on a research paper or a poster at some symposium. Research is the manifestation of an orthopedic surgeon’s curiosity and motivation into a lasting contribution to the field. The research experience involves everything from designing the study, getting Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, collecting and analyzing data, writing the manuscript, and eventually getting it published.


Research is becoming more and more of an important element of your residency application, showing reviewers that you are serious about the field and have the capabilities to contribute. Are you the typical hardworking applicant with great grades and boards scores, or did you go beyond that and spent time doing valuable research?  


The following are some tips that I picked up while doing research as a medical student.


The earlier you start, the better!


I did clinical orthopaedic research in the summer between my first and second years of medical school.  In fact, I am still working on that same project as an intern. The research was presented at both national and international conferences because there was enough time to do so.   What I’m trying to get at is that this process can be very very long, so it’s good to start early.


Look at your schedule and optimize the time wisely. Try to devote time for research internships during medical school, but make sure you give your medical education priority. Another option that may be available seems to be a recent trend for allopathic students.  Students will take a year off during medical school to do research at well-reputed institutions. This may not be a bad idea if research is very important to you but you’ll have to check on the logistics with your school first.

Look for a place that has a residency program


So, now you’ve decided to do research but don’t know where. Well, orthogate is a great source for orthopaedic research opportunities. Another option is to narrow down the programs you’ll be auditioning at, and try to do a summer research internship there. The goal should be to find a research opportunity at a place that has a residency program. This will help you in establishing a good relationship with the program directors, faculty, and residents by showing your dedication to scholarly activities. Such places also tend to have ongoing research projects that residents are working on, and you can help in getting them completed. Bottom line here is to look for a research opportunity at a place with a residency program and plenty of ongoing research.

Make sure your project is approved by IRB before you get there


First and foremost, make sure the project is approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). This approval process can take forever and may be a waste of your time to wait on it if you’re only there for a short time period. So, look for an IRB approved research project that will have a valuable impact to clinical or basic science orthopaedic research. Also look at the anticipated completion time of the project. Meta-analyses and case reports don’t take much time, but retrospective and prospective studies can take much longer.  Try to consider how much time you are willing to commit to research without compromising medical school and boards studies. Then, based on that, look for a feasible research project.  IRB exempt studies, usually case studies or series or biomechanical studies are another good option when pressed for time.  Start with smaller projects and work your way up.

Your work will vary depending on the type of project you choose


If it’s a case report, you will have to gather all the information about the case and tie that in with data from relevant published literature. For a meta-analysis, you will need to do an exhaustive literature search and then narrow down to the most relevant articles related to your study. Both of these types of studies are fairly straight forward and do not require previous research experience.  Your primary investigator (PI) will guide you throughout the process as well. For other studies; you will be required to do literature searches, collect data and maintain a database (patient information, imaging data, etc), administer patient surveys, and assist in writing the manuscript.


Once you have all the information, it all depends on how fast you get your job done. I have written a case report in as little as a day, so it is completely doable. As for the larger, more time-consuming projects, these may take much longer. The longest I’ve worked on a project is 3 years; from data collection to submitting to a journal.


Complete the project!


Oftentimes students think that spending time at a well-reputed institution will have a greater impact on their residency application. While it may get you a letter of recommendation on an impressive letterhead, your research will be meaningless if you didn’t follow through with it.  On the other hand, if you did research at your base hospital and your work got published, this will have much more of a meaningful impact on your application.


There is a tendency of students to start a project and never look back after their time there has ended. Stay involved no matter where you are. Stay in touch with email, text, or phone. Follow through! Check to see if new data was collected, or, if the results have been analyzed. Let it be known that you are willing to write the manuscript. Try to present your research at a meeting or conference. Take the initiative to submit the manuscript to a journal, and if it gets rejected, revise it and submit to another one- keep doing this until it gets published! Bottom line: Don’t give up! This shows perseverance. It may also be a means of giving residency programs insight into your hard work and dedication to the orthopedic field.


My research story


On a personal note, I feel that my research experiences are what helped me in getting into an orthopaedic residency. In fact, that’s how I got interested in orthopaedics in the first place. It all started with a summer research internship at Cincinnati Children’s– where I completed a Legg-Calve-Perthes study, fell in love with pediatric orthopaedics, and found an amazing mentor.


I was not the stereotypical applicant who had interest in orthopaedics because of athletic endeavors or sports injuries.  I started fancying orthopaedics because of what I read in textbooks and journals, and from my experiences in the OR and clinic. I loved the science of bone healing, and was amazed by orthopaedic procedures.  


My orthopaedic research interests have led way to many opportunities.  I had numerous chances to attend and present my research at conferences and meetings.  By spending time doing research, not only does your orthopaedic knowledge base increase, but you also get to meet well-respected orthopods who will offer guidance throughout your residency process and beyond.


I was told by a few program directors at the places I interviewed that my research experiences set me apart from other applicants and that my goal to contribute academically to orthopaedics is unique. We all aspire to be great skilled surgeons, but I also want to excel in scholarly contribution in the orthopaedic field, even more so as a D.O. I hope this inspires you to do the same.