Internal Medicine Residency: Which Scholarly Pursuits Should I Consider? -

Internal Medicine Residency: Which Scholarly Pursuits Should I Consider?

October 10, 2022
Life as an internal medicine resident is busy. Most days are filled with patient responsibilities, and you naturally may want to relax and catch up on chores or errands during the occasional day off. You shouldn’t feel pressure to build even more into this busy schedule, but if you have the time and mental bandwidth, exploring options for professional development can be helpful later on when you’re applying for employment or an internal medicine fellowship. Read on to learn more about what opportunities exist and how to engage in them.

Consider pursuing a research project

Involvement in research offers many benefits. The skills you gain, including statistical analysis and presenting data in a scientific report, are transferable to future investigative endeavors. Research in any form is also an excellent addition to your CV when you apply for a fellowship or job. In particular, research experience will make a great impact when applying to more competitive fellowships like cardiology or gastroenterology. Of note, quality is better than quantity. It’s better to pursue fewer projects that you see through to completion (and publication) than to start many unfinished projects.

Another advantage of doing research is your ability to titrate how much work you take on to your schedule. If you are on a lighter rotation like an ambulatory block, you may finish your clinical responsibilities earlier in the day or have weekends off. Some internal medicine programs may even build research electives into your schedule. With this additional time, quickly making headway through a project is very realistic. Conversely, when rotating through a critical care unit or a busier inpatient service, you can limit your involvement in research. Some projects may have rigid deadlines, so plan ahead to make sure you don’t commit to more than you’re able.

How do I find a research project?

The process starts with identifying a faculty member who studies a topic of interest to you. Your research adviser can become a great mentor during residency as you explore the next steps of your career. If you plan to apply for a certain fellowship, consider tailoring your research to that area of medicine. Basic science research projects or clinical trials are usually more time-consuming and may not be as realistic during residency. A retrospective cohort study through chart review, however, is more feasible.

Once you have a research question and general plan, you’ll submit for approval from your organization’s Institutional Review Board. From there, the specifics of each project will vary, and your adviser will walk you through the process. However, you generally dive into data collection and analysis, package any results you may have found into a report, and consider submitting for publication. Acceptance of your data for publication can be a remarkably exciting capstone of your work.

Go to a conference or two

Conferences can be both productive and enjoyable. These events entail a combination of presentations by experts in a given field and receptions for attendees, usually organized on an annual basis in different locations. The talks are usually very educational and oriented toward teaching attendees about the latest developments in scientific research and patient care, and the receptions are often a great opportunity to network with residents and faculty members at other institutions. Furthermore, you may be able to apply to speak at a conference. These lectures are usually opportunities to present your research project findings and are great to include on your CV. Conferences are generally in larger cities which you may have time to explore during any downtime.

The challenge with attending conferences during residency, of course, is finding space in your schedule to travel. Your vacation during residency is usually limited, so you understandably may want to reserve that for rest or leisure. If a weekend off or research elective aligns with a conference, you could possibly attend without using vacation time. Conferences generally have registration fees, but trainees often receive discounts. Furthermore, if you’re presenting at the conference, you may be able to apply for a scholarship or grant covering these fees and even some or all of your travel and lodging expenses. With a little bit of planning, you can enjoy time away in a new place networking with colleagues and learning about exciting advances in your field, potentially at little to no expense.

Become involved in medical education

A great opportunity for professional development during residency is becoming involved in medical education. If you’re a resident at a teaching hospital affiliated with a medical school, you likely will have many opportunities to work alongside students and participate in their educational curriculum. This may take many forms including coaching students rotating on your service, assisting with preclinical didactics and lectures, or coaching medical students interested in internal medicine residency with their applications. Mentoring the next generation of physicians is a rewarding avenue to pay forward the investment others made in your education. It’s also a great way to develop your skills as an educator.

Similarly, residency usually offers many opportunities for peer-to-peer teaching in the form of case discussions and didactic conferences. Some presentations are going to be obligatory as part of your curriculum, if you have the time and interest, you may be able to commit to serving in a role coordinating these educational lectures and facilitating educational programs for your coresidents. If you hope to be involved in resident education later on as an attending, this pursuit will further hone the organizational and leadership skills to be an effective educator.

In summary

Internal medicine residency is a busy time, and the vast majority of your daily focus will be on patient care. Residency is your opportunity to develop the competencies to become an independent practitioner and quality physician; it’s perfectly reasonable to spend all of your professional time devoted to this purpose. However, if you happen to have the energy to pursue “extracurricular” activities for professional development, you may want to investigate any options to become involved in research, attend conferences, or teach students and your peers. Beyond being advantageous when time to apply for a fellowship or employment, these activities will promote skills that may become invaluable in your future career, regardless of the path you take after residency.

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By Michael Stephens, MD

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