The Formation of a Medical Student Research Committee and Its Impact on Involvement in Orthopaedic Departmental Research

Stuart Schexnayder (SOM Class of 2020)
Hunter M. Starring (SOM Class of 2020) 

Research is an important aspect of medical training and plays a vital role in the advancement of clinical medicine. It teaches educational skills that are traditionally absent in many medical school curricula but important in building a career founded on evidence-based medicine. Research production also serves to improve institutional reputation and visibility while facilitating faculty advancement. To these ends, departments can benefit greatly from medical student involvement in research endeavors. Medical students, on the other hand, seeking to be competitive for residencies, particularly in orthopaedics, have increased their own research activities significantly over the past ten years.  This growing emphasis on research in the application process may stimulate younger students to seek out further research experiences. Some medical schools offer summer programs for first-year students or electives in research to fourth-year students, but these opportunities are likely too brief for students to complete a study or too late to include during the residency application process. 

Medical students may then seek to participate in research opportunities external to the formal curriculum, but face significant barriers, including a lack of time, competing educational demands, and unfamiliarity with the research process. Many institutions, particularly those with a strong history of research production, have established research departments with support staff in place to assist faculty, residents, and medical students. As the emphasis on research grows across the country, departments that have not historically been active in research are now searching for ways to increase productivity.  

In order to compete with these institutions, a Musculoskeletal Student Research Committee was developed to provide a mutually beneficial link between orthopaedic research faculty and medical students at LSUHSC-New Orleans. The goal of the committee was to overcome common barriers described previously in order to increase the amount, quality, and interest in research within the department of orthopaedics. Hence the mission statement of the committee was written, “To connect students with the information and faculty needed to guide and maximize medical students’ time to choose, start and complete research of the highest quality.”   

Composed of students and faculty, the committee developed a Research Guide for Medical Students, Research Database and Student List, Medical Students’ Webpage, Routing Form, and holds quarterly meetings for those students active in orthopaedic research. With this platform, the committee aimed to increase young student involvement in research and provide a stratified level of study participation among upper-level students for continued mentorship. In one calendar year, the total number of first and second-year students participating in department research increased 460% (5 to 28). Also, the total number of research projects with student involvement from these two classes increased 780% (5 to 44).  

The number of research experiences and publications that medical students are participating in to match into competitive residency programs continues to increase. From 2007 to 2014, the mean number of research experiences for successful orthopaedic applicants increased from 2.6 to 3.7.  The number of publications, abstracts, and presentations increased from 3.0 to 6.7 during that time frame as well. This number has also increased in all other specialties from 2.2 to 4.2. Since research is becoming much more imperative on residency applications in fields other than just orthopaedics, this committee model can be implemented by students and faculty in any medical academic specialty. Regardless if students continue to perform research as clinicians, the understanding and interpretation of research is vital to practicing a career of evidence-based medicine.  This demonstrates how the formation of a student committee, along with supportive department faculty, may quickly grow the research environment at institutions seeking to improve their research activity, and how this partnership may benefit students, residents, faculty, and the medical profession as a whole.  

Please visit our publication in Medical Education Online in the January 2018 Edition –  

DOI: 10.1080/10872981.2018.1424449