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Cover Focus | Nov/Dec '20

Pursuing Research Opportunities

"How do medical students get published, find good research mentors, and achieve success in the world of academia?"

Naveen K. Rao, MD

Publishing research as a medical student is difficult! Ophthalmology rotations are typically 2 to 4 weeks long, and, by the time you get to know an attending well enough to start working on a project, the rotation is almost over. Therefore, I’d encourage medical students to take on short projects such as case reports. Many attendings have seen patients with unusual conditions or unique presentations, but often we simply don’t have time to write up the reports.

At the beginning of an ophthalmology rotation, you can mention to your attending that you are interested in trying to submit a case report, and they can help identify a good case early on so that you have time to research, write, edit, and submit it by the end of your rotation. Read other case reports and papers to help you understand proper terminology and formatting. The more polished you can make your draft before sending it to your attending for editing, the better. From an attending’s perspective, editing is very time-consuming, and it can be frustrating if the grammar and formatting of the draft are poor. If we feel like we have to rewrite everything ourselves, we may decide it’s too much work and might not end up submitting your work.

If you are interested in being part of a larger or longer-term project, I would advise asking upperclass medical students at your medical school or current ophthalmology residents or fellows at your institution which attendings have ongoing research projects. Figure out what topic you are interested in, contact that attending, and ask if you can play a role in their research team. They may need help with seeing patients in their clinic (which can be tricky unless you have time off between other rotations) or perhaps with chart review, data collection, or statistical analysis (which are easier because you can do much of this work in the evenings or on weekends). Expect that your role in these projects will be smaller, particularly if residents or other medical students are also involved in the project, so first authorship will be less likely.

I hope these suggestions will be helpful as you progress toward your goal of becoming an ophthalmologist. Good luck!

Naveen K. Rao, MD
  • Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Member, MillennialEYE Editorial Advisory Board
  • naveen.k.rao@lahey.org; Twitter @NaveenKRaoMD
  • Financial disclosure: None