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Student Research

Getting Clinical

Interested in research? Here's how to get started

Conducting research offers the chance to learn from mentors and delve into specialty areas you might pursue later.

Osteopathic medical school is an ideal time to gain early exposure to the world of clinical research. In fact, some students report the research experience they gained in med school changed how they hope to one day practice medicine. In addition to sharpening analytical and critical thinking skills, conducting research allows students to discover and share knowledge at the forefront of osteopathic medicine. Here’s a high-level overview of how to get started researching as a medical student.

Guide to medical student research

Exploring your options


The second semester of your first year of medical school is an ideal time to get an early start on gaining research experience. You can do this by:

  • Applying for an AOA research training grant to conduct a basic science, clinical or health services-related research project.
  • Reaching out to faculty at your school.
  • Contacting hospitals your COM is affiliated with to learn if any physicians there are conducting clinical research.

Once you’ve identified clinical researchers in your area, be proactive about contacting them to see if there’s room for a student in their project. “There are so many researchers who would love to have an eager student help them out,” says Charles Lopresto, DO, who served as SOMA’s research chair as an osteopathic medical student. If you’re serious about research, you may want to join a project the summer between your first and second year of medical school, when you’ll have more time to spend than you would during the school year.


During your clinical rotations as a third- and fourth-year student, you’ll have even more opportunities to meet physicians who are conducting clinical research. “There’s a misconception sometimes that research means working primarily in a lab setting or conducting randomized clinical trials that are very complex,” Dr. Lopresto says. “But any physician with an inquisitive mind can look at their own patients’ data and ask interesting questions. That’s the heart of clinical research.”

All osteopathic medical students are eligible to apply for AOA research training grants to conduct a basic science, clinical or health services-related research project. The grants offer up to $5,000 in funding for those who are selected. Learn more.

Presenting your findings

Where to publish and how to promote

Once you’ve gotten involved in a research project, decide how to best compile and promote your findings. State and specialty societies’ annual meetings, which take place throughout the year, typically include a poster session where you can present and explain your project. National events like the AOA’s OMED conference offer the chance to share your work with an even bigger audience. The AOA Research Conference, which takes place at OMED, is open to students, residents and physicians, with the winning authors’ abstracts published online in the JAOA.

If you’re pursuing publication, the JAOA author resource center explains every step of preparing your manuscript. JAOA has a special section, SURF, showcasing research conducted by DO students, residents and fellows that illustrates the osteopathic mind-body-spirit approach to treating patients.

Building your skillset

Leverage your experience

All residents are required to participate in scholarly activity, so you’ll have a leg up if you have some research experience going into residency. Research experience as a medical student may also help you land your dream residency spot. If you’re interested in a research career, you’ll want to consider residency programs’ research offerings and culture while you’re going through the match process.

Tackle a solo project

On the flip side, you don’t have to conduct a huge project to satisfy your residency program’s scholarly activity requirement. Here are some basic projects you could undertake on your own:

  • Analyze patient data and write up an unusual case or surprising trend as a case report.
  • Conduct a quality assessment showing how the practice or hospital where you’re rotating is treating a particular condition compared with others, and how your patients’ outcomes compare.
  • Examine the effectiveness of a quality improvement initiative at your institution by comparing key metrics before and after the project took place.
  • Dive into a clinical question by reading and synthesizing two dozen or more research articles and distilling your findings into a clinical review.

Consider a clinical review

If you’re pursuing publication, JAOA director Audrey Lusher recommends submitting a clinical review rather than a case report. Clinical reviews answer common clinical questions that can be immediately put into practice. Such reviews are also more likely to be cited by other researchers and may even receive media attention, as was the case with a recent JAOA review about whether vegans are more likely to have nutritional problems.

Video: How to research

Whether it’s patient care, basic science or medical education that grabs your interest, research offers a means of digging into your biggest questions about medicine. In this video, JAOA director Audrey Lusher explains how to get started in research, from formulating a question to choosing the format of your project.

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