By Sasmit Sarangi
The number of IMGs doing either short-term or long-term research has increased significantly over the past few years. In my opinion, this has been driven primarily by increasing competition in the residency application process and, as a result, IMGs try to seek an extra edge.
Generally, the end of the US academic year is not the same as other countries, and IMGs often have several months between their graduation and the start of the application process. Many candidates now seek to utilize this time in research efforts.
Though it is incorrect to view research as essential, it can be a significant boost to your chances in certain specialties, at academic programs in particular, if you have complementary research experience.
Clinical research and laboratory research are the two broad areas that many IMGs pursue. Clinical research is often the first choice perhaps on account of the large number of available volunteer research positions. It is a great opportunity to develop relationships and mentorship from clinical faculty and display your work ethic. You have good prospects for quick publications/abstracts that can bolster your academic credentials. It is always valuable if you have some experience in clinical statistics as it can significantly reduce the learning curve.
I myself have spent a significant amount of time in lab research and I personally found it fascinating and fulfilling. At the same time, I have met quite a few people who found lab research very tedious. It is very important to understand that lab work is not at all well suited to quick publications and bolstering your CV in a few months.
If you have limited lab experience, like I did, then you will probably need several months, if not more, just to get trained in techniques. Any position that is less than 18 months in duration will (in all likelihood) not lead to many publications, especially in the short term. I feel that if you make an informed decision to go into lab research, you will definitely find it to be an enriching experience.
To sum up, I think research can help some IMGs but it can be detrimental as well in some cases. It is important to balance improving your research credentials with the amount of time that has elapsed from your time of graduation.
I felt during the residency application process that time from graduation is used by a lot of programs as a surrogate to judge a candidate’s ability to perform in a clinical setting. It is definitely important to avoid being viewed as the candidate whose clinical skills may not be adequate for a residency position.
It would be great to hear more about other people’s experiences in the comments below, and please feel free to put forward any questions that you may have about this issue.