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Resident Forum
November 25, 1998

Surviving Your Resident Research Requirement

Author Affiliations

Prepared by Ashish Bajaj, Department of Resident Physicians Services, American Medical Association.

JAMA. 1998;280(20):1802. doi:10.1001/jama.280.20.1802

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 training programs.

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 the topic.

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!

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.  Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals.  JAMA.1997;277:927-934.