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How do med students land "easy" publications? (eg. chart reviews)


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Tl;dr: How do med students get involved with physicians' lit review projects that are easily publishable? Any tips and experience-sharing would be appreciated! :)

First of all I said "easy" because I couldn't think of a better word, but I'm in no way trying to look down on those types of publications! I just mean that certain research projects are, generally speaking, less time-consuming and you're more likely to get a pub out of it.

I just finished first-year med school and am potentially interested in academic medicine. I am working on three different research projects right now and all of them are primary research projects. I love the projects I'm a part of but they're quite time-consuming and I sometimes worry that I'll end up having nothing to show for them if I get negative results. I would love to get involved with some review-type projects. I have a bit of a background in academic writing so writing a review would actually be super interesting for me. And of course being able to have publications on CaRMS would be a relief.

I know med students get involved in review projects often but I'm not clear on how. Do you cold-email physicians? Do you talk to physicians you know from school/shadowing and see if one has a spot for you? I got involved with all of my research projects through various funded research programs, and afaik review projects usually aren't considered rigorous enough for those programs.

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2 hours ago, redbeanbun said:
Do you cold-email physicians? Do you talk to physicians you know from school/shadowing and see if one has a spot for you?

Yes. You're looking for case reports, review articles, or basic chart review studies. Ask staff you work with or mentors if they have any cases that would be appropriate for a case study. If not, do they know anyone who does. If you're working with someone ask about their research interests and if they have any pending projects appropriate for a medical student. If you see an interesting case ask your staff if they think it would be appropriate for a case report. Often staff have ideas for papers but no time to work on it so they might be happy to have a med student do the grunt work that they can just edit and slap their name on at the end, so you have to look at it as sometimes you're doing them a favour. If you ask around enough people will be able to point you in the right direction.

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46 minutes ago, bearded frog said:

Yes. You're looking for case reports, review articles, or basic chart review studies. Ask staff you work with or mentors if they have any cases that would be appropriate for a case study. If not, do they know anyone who does. If you're working with someone ask about their research interests and if they have any pending projects appropriate for a medical student. If you see an interesting case ask your staff if they think it would be appropriate for a case report. Often staff have ideas for papers but no time to work on it so they might be happy to have a med student do the grunt work that they can just edit and slap their name on at the end, so you have to look at it as sometimes you're doing them a favour. If you ask around enough people will be able to point you in the right direction.

That is very helpful and definitely clarifies things for me! Thank you for taking the time to respond. :)

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4 hours ago, redbeanbun said:

Tl;dr: How do med students get involved with physicians' lit review projects that are easily publishable? Any tips and experience-sharing would be appreciated! :)

First of all I said "easy" because I couldn't think of a better word, but I'm in no way trying to look down on those types of publications! I just mean that certain research projects are, generally speaking, less time-consuming and you're more likely to get a pub out of it.

I just finished first-year med school and am potentially interested in academic medicine. I am working on three different research projects right now and all of them are primary research projects. I love the projects I'm a part of but they're quite time-consuming and I sometimes worry that I'll end up having nothing to show for them if I get negative results. I would love to get involved with some review-type projects. I have a bit of a background in academic writing so writing a review would actually be super interesting for me. And of course being able to have publications on CaRMS would be a relief.

I know med students get involved in review projects often but I'm not clear on how. Do you cold-email physicians? Do you talk to physicians you know from school/shadowing and see if one has a spot for you? I got involved with all of my research projects through various funded research programs, and afaik review projects usually aren't considered rigorous enough for those programs.

Sort of an aside to your question, but one thing to consider is your purpose for doing research. If it’s just for the line on the CV - I mean, I get why it feels important but I disagree it should be as prioritized as it is in many areas of our profession.

Many ‘easy’ projects that get published go to low quality venues and are essentially never read or used, and you often don’t learn that much from doing them either. If you get to the end of a project that you really think isn’t publishable, you have to really reflect on why - if it’s because you made mistakes in the research design, etc. then what you should be getting from that experience is learning how to do better next time. Negative results are not a reason to not publish - if the research is well done and the negative result is surprising, then that can actually be quite valuable. In addition, really good reviews, case reports, etc. can actually be incredibly time consuming. So if you’re interested in doing one that’s awesome, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect it to take way less time (depending on how involved your current projects are). I don’t mean to imply that all ‘easy’ projects are valueless either - sometimes really straightforward questions haven’t been asked yet, and they’re absolutely worth doing. But something to think about!

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Depending on the # of charts and type of info that you're looking for in the chart review, it can be an incredibly tedious and lengthy process. If you can get yourself involved in a retrospective cohort analysis where the all the data is already there, then that's much "easier" in my opinion.

 

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8 hours ago, sterntaler said:

Depending on the # of charts and type of info that you're looking for in the chart review, it can be an incredibly tedious and lengthy process. If you can get yourself involved in a retrospective cohort analysis where the all the data is already there, then that's much "easier" in my opinion.

Retrospective study is a chart review...

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15 minutes ago, bearded frog said:

Retrospective study is a chart review...

Chart review is a type of retrospective study, but not all retrospective studies are chart reviews; e.g., you can do database-linkage studies. What I was trying to emphasize is that it's much easier to do a project that has data available already. A chart review in a conventional sense requires the researcher to look into each patient chart to gather the necessary variables, and that can be a time-consuming process and often takes longer than it looks. 

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What might be better is to do a literature or systematic review. Those don't usually require access to data and it involves going through the published literature instead which is much easier to abstract data from. The other great thing is that these papers typically are more likely to get published and often go to reasonably good journals. The other added bonus is you really get a good lay of that specific topic by the end of your project because you've spent so much time looking through the literature.

If you don't have too much time to commit, I would suggest a case report or case series. These are much simpler, they are a bit tougher to get accepted, sometimes you have to pay to get accepted, but you can probably only put in 10 hrs of work and get it done. 

I used to think that research wasn't necessarily impactful and joked about the 50th chart review on the same topic, but I've come to realize that we are holding our ambitions too high. There are 7 billion people in this world and we are not that special. Research doesn't have to be novel to be good, most of the work we do is simply repetition of previous work and research is no different. On the other hand there are significant personal benefits including learning about a topic in depth, understanding how to critically appraise literature, understanding how to read a paper etc. so that next time you read a paper or write one, you are better and faster at it. 

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