Increasingly, residency programs expect resident physicians to complete
a research or scholarly project as a graduation requirement. Long a tradition
in subspecialty areas, research is now also expected in many primary care
Once familiar with the concepts of rigorous research methodology, clinically
focused physicians will find ample opportunities to use their research skills
to improve patient care, particularly when incorporating the findings of new
biomedical reports in clinical practice. Skill in critical literature appraisal
is vital in face of the overwhelming amount of new information. Research training
can prepare residents with strategies for evaluating the efficacy and generalizability
of new treatment approaches and for appraising study findings to determine
those relevant to one's own practice.
How can the busy resident best satisfy this research requirement?
First, approach the task head on and get an early start during your first
year of training. For many residents the most problematic aspect of the research
requirement is articulating a topic of interest as a simple, clinically relevant
research question. After you have identified a general area of interest, conduct
a literature search to see how others are currently thinking about and studying
Second, after your general topic is narrowed, find a faculty mentor
who (1) is a content expert in your particular area of interest; (2) is an
experienced researcher, but not necessarily expert in your particular topic;
(3) currently has a related research project; or (4) is interested in supporting
or mentoring your project. Seek out other available resources, including faculty,
librarians, office staff, computer software training classes, medical students,
and quality assurance committees. Discuss your research design with others
to obtain ideas and feedback.
Third, familiarize yourself with IMRAD1 (Introduction, Methods,
Results and Discussion) format for research reports. This format provides
an outline of the points you will want to address in your final report and
helps to clarify the types of information you will need to collect and summarize.
Be sure to collect all the data pertinent to answering your research questions.
As a practical strategy, list each research question and the operational definitions
associated with each variable, as well as all the data elements you will collect
to answer the question. It is extremely helpful to visualize a tabular presentation
of the data that will address your research questions. Draft "mock" tables
of how you might represent your findings, detailing the rows and columns that
will describe your data.
Get your study underway during your second year of training, particularly
if you are in a 3-year residency. Be sure to inquire about the rules and procedures
of your local institutional review board and become familiar with federal
guidelines pertaining to informed consent. If needed, seek funding from sources
that will have a quick turnaround time. Pilot test your subject recruitment
procedures and data collection methods to avoid ending up with insufficient
or uninterpretable data.
Keep a notebook log of what you are doing, the problems encountered,
and decisions made; this could prove invaluable when writing the Methods section.
The third year of residency can be used for data entry and analysis. Before
writing your final report, be sure to update your literature review for relevant,
recently published studies.
Research training not only improves a physician's clinical acumen, it
also furthers one's professional development. Consider submitting an abstract
of your study for presentation at regional or national meetings, and then
prepare your manuscript for publication according to the "Uniform Requirements."1 Research experience and publications are an asset when applying for
jobs or promotions. You may be surprised to find that you enjoy scholarly
pursuits—exposure to the research process during residency may be a
catalyst for increasing your interest in practice-based research or even a
career in academic medicine!
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Users' Guides to the Medical Literature
Clarifying Your Question
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