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Research for USMLE Aspirants

Research for USMLE Application

USMLE residency application has many parts. The most important factors that make an application shine are: USMLE scores, visa status, letters of recommendation (LOR), US clinical experience (USCE), research experience, years from graduation, and medical school–MSPE/Transcript.

As the awareness about US residency program has considerably increased, many international medical students and graduates are now pursuing this USMLE path. The main focus of these students is on exams as USMLE Step 1 and USMLE Step 2 and also many resources as FIRST AID and UWORLD are available for preparation of these exams as Kaplan Lectures, UWORLD, so as a result the number of applicants scoring above the average (220-230) has significantly increased over the passage of time. The number of US graduates have also increased, and they always get the preference over foreign graduates applying in residency list programs.

In this background, USMLE scores are no longer the only factor for making your application competitive. Although, a smaller number of students would score up to 270+ that significantly makes them competitive. For the majority, to distinguish your resume over other applicants with similar USMLE scores, attention has to be focused on other categories of this path. Though USCE for IMG is preferred more often compared to research experiences in most situations, there is a large variation. For example, US clinical experience for IMG or medical observership in US with an average letter of recommendation may be less valuable to a robust research experience with multiple publications from a well-known institution.

The key elements that add strength to the research experience are -

· Letter of recommendations

· Number of publications

· Quality of experience


Research experience is not valuable if there are no publications to show. It would be like acting in a movie which was never released. Compared to any other experience, research work can help you form the strongest bond with your supervisor. However, an ideal situation for any graduate is a clinical + research work that will lead you to the strongest letter of recommendation. Another important aspect of research is that research can also land you the clinical opportunities as well. Most attendings are themselves practicing physicians or surgeons and do clinical research. They are well aware that as an medical graduate, your goal is to match into a residency program in US. Therefore, it depends on you that how effectively you are able to get benefit from a research opportunity. If done right, research -

· Gets you a letter of recommendation

· Gets you an opportunity of USCE such as observer ship/elective.

· Provides you with a good an experience that you can mention at the interview and shine like a star.

· It makes you distinct among other applicants, especially if you have several good publications.

· Make several connections while collaborating with other researchers, even more and stronger as compared to clinical experiences.

· It potentiates your interest towards a specific specialty.

However, a limitation of research is that it can be time consuming. Most of the graduates do face financial constraints as the USMLE step 1 and USMLE step 2 cost is relatively high. However, at, research experience can result in 2-3 publications in a relatively short time, if you are hardworking and willing to succeed. There are numerous additional benefits of research for USMLE aspirants. Research experience allows you to better grip the published works, learn to balance collaborative with individual work, and determine your specific area of interest. Exposure to research work helps explore career fields. The earlier you become involved in research, the more experience you attain, which enhances your career decision. Many students pursuing medicine will also benefit greatly from exposure to research work. Many fellowship programs value research experience, especially academic programs. For most IMGs, the ‘Residency Match planning’ process begins with the preparation of USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 and trying to have US Clinical Experience (USCE). However, this strategy of aspirants overlooks an important opportunity to enhance the prospect of a successful match, which is having quality research experience from a well reputed institution during medical education in their native country. In the current competitive world that international graduates face, research experience can be an important differentiator among themselves. While US research experience is valued highly by Residency Programs, you can also have vital research experience even in your native country as part of your medical school or work. In addition to improving your CV, research experience in medical school also enables you to acquire additional skills and critically evaluate any medical literature that would benefit in your future. Ideally, the USMLE aspirants should start on your research projects in the early years of your medical school in your own country. Finding a good mentor and a project at some well reputed institute can be difficult so early on. There are also several restrictions that medical schools outside of US have including lack of interest of faculty and students, and lac of research opportunities/programs for medical students. Here are some of the ideas on how to overcome these challenges:

1. Find out a US/North American or UK trained faculty:

Even many Asian countries like India/Pakistan now have many US/Canada trained physicians who have gone back after their residency and are working for large renowned hospital systems in their home countries. These physicians not only completely understand the significance of research but also are more likely to be familiar with the latest research areas. Their letter of recommendation is also likely to carry more importance with the Residency Program Admissions Committee. Alternatively, you can contact doctors in USA to get this opportunity. We can also help you publish in pub med indexed journals this at very nominal price.

2. Get a Research project:

Once you have a mentor identified, you should work with him/her to plan some practical research projects that have a high potential for publication in renowned journals. You can also indulge yourself in one of their ongoing research projects or start with a retrospective study. Your mentor will help you out to design the study, get IRB approval and conduct the data collection and analyses and get the study to publication.

Easier route is write a review article or a do a meta analysis. Case reports do not carry much weightage and should be avoided.

3. Technical/Statistical skills:

You should also work to grip basic statistical skills there and become familiar with at least one statistical tool like SPSS, STATA or JMP. There are even many free online tutorials that you can use to acquire these skills even if struggling to get some local expertise there.

4. Publish results:

As you start work on your research project, you must also start thinking about the channels to disseminate your results. Again, your mentor would help you out in in this regard. But remember your end goal must be a manuscript. It has been observed that most students feel that writing an abstract or giving an oral presentation is enough- while these are reasonable, the Admissions Committee is likely to consider research experience resulting in manuscript very favorably.

To summarize this all, you need a good mentor, a well thought out project which is practical, and you need to learn analytical skills- all of which can combine to produce a well written manuscript and help you obtain critical research skills leading to publication in some well reputed journal.

We at California rotations can help you publish in pub med indexed journals at very low cost and in a time effective manner so your application can stand out from rest of the crowd. You can email us at or reach us through our contact us form. We have helped many students achieve their goals.

Good luck!

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