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Purely speculating here, but I think that quality of publication is definitely important. Even if you aren't publishing in Nature or Science, a publication in Circulation (IF ~14) is going to overshadow a publication in a journal with a lower impact factor (IF~2). While the name itself might not be considered, the difficulty of getting published in a higher impact journal says a lot about the quality of work you are able to produce. 


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Schools should recognize the difference between publishing in a mainstream, peer-reviewed, academic journal and publishing in a less formal undergraduate journal. However, when it comes to admissions, applicants tend to overestimate the value of formal publication, so while publishing in undergraduate journals likely has less value, the difference may be less important that you might think. The former shows research ability and a degree of excellence that the latter does not, but both show initiative and a degree of communication ability. It's not unethical or lacking in integrity to pursue such publications in my mind, so long as the accomplishments aren't embellished.

Publication in undergrad is a bit of a game of luck or circumstance anyway, as there are mediocre undergrad researchers with multiple publications, and excellent ones with zero articles in their name.

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This thread has some good points in it, but the there are a few key points here that in my opinion have been overlooked. It is important to distinguish between a student journal and a peer-reviewed journal, and two peer-reviewed journals with different impact factors.

With student journals and peer-reviewed journals, the more rigorous review process is a pretty important one. The reason medical schools like these publications is because they want their staff to eventually publish, and having experience with this process is important. Most peer-reviewed journals are indexed in "pubmed" and publications = citations = prestige = money. I agree that the actual qualities you demonstrate are similar in terms of these two types of journals, but there is indeed an experience element to publishing in a peer-reviewed journal that is definitely considered by admissions committees and people reviewing applications. As others have said though, the actual content of the publication probably doesn't hold much if any weight. I do think there is an important distinction here though.

With peer-reviewed journals, unless you have a publication in NEJM or nature, etc, the impact factor probably doesn't make too much of a difference. For these situations, describing your role and the scope of the research is more important. This is for many reasons. Certain fields (basic science), are much more difficult to publish in and often require more time investment to produce a publishable result compared to others (epidemiology). Describing a large role in one of those papers is likely to hold more weight than saying you pumped out some graphs for 4 or 5 epi papers. Second, some fields highest journals simply don't have the impact that others do. For example, the highest ranked journal in fields like osteoporosis or rheumatology or pediatrics won't have nearly the impact factor that cancer or cardiology papers do. Again, this is related to funding opportunities and drive to publish those studies. It wouldn't be fair to penalize a student for putting potentially higher quality research in a weaker field (which they probably didn't pick by choice and happened to do whatever the supervisor was involved in). I don't think its worth the energy to concern yourself with impact factor.

At the end of the day, publish at the highest level your field/research/supervisor will allow. It will all benefit you and nothing will hurt. If you can't get a peer-review publication, then go for a student journal and focus on the skills required to do so. If you end up in a peer-review journal, most of those things are implied. It is wise to ignore things like impact factor and focus on your contribution to the work and showing how you can take that experience to be a useful/productive clinician scientist at your prospective medical schools.

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