For premed students hoping to gain some research experience before applying to medical school, the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic poses a challenge to that goal. At a time when so much medical research has taken off, it is hard for students to find places on research teams. Hospitals and other clinical facilities are limiting entry into buildings, as are research labs at universities.
Since research experience can be an important part of a medical school application, figuring out where your application stands in terms of research and whether it makes sense to pursue opportunities at this time is imperative.
As a 2020-2021 applicant to med school, you will likely find yourself in one of three applicant categories.
First are students who already have robust research experience. These students may wish to strengthen their skills further or may have had research projects interrupted by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Second are students who have some research experience, but this research may not be related to science or health care and it may have involved few participation hours.
Finally, some students may have no research experience at all, and they face the prospect of applying to medical school without having had these opportunities.
Students With Robust Research Experience
If you are part of the first category of students, take a deep breath. You have had quality research experiences and have had the chance to hone the research skills that med schools value.
While you can still ask around about furthering your experience, do not worry if you cannot find another research opportunity. Instead, think about other activities that will meaningfully add to your application – like an online class or volunteering to deliver groceries to those at risk for complications from the coronavirus – and pursue those.
Students With Less or No Research Experience
If you are in the second or third groups of students, do not panic. While research is a good thing to have on your med school application, it is not the sole determinant of your admissions worthiness.
For example, I had no research on my med school application and I was admitted to med school. If you find yourself barred from in-person research environments due to the pandemic, reach out to a mentor or faculty member involved in an interesting project and offer to help with literature reviews or data analysis. Both of these types of work are critical to the research process, and they can be done remotely.
If you are unable to secure a research position, think about other means of strengthening your application. And if you are absolutely sure you want to do research prior to enrolling in med school, you always have the option to delay your application to a later cycle. The option to apply to med school will exist whenever you are ready to take it.
Remember that medical schools are sensitive to the disruptions resulting from the coronavirus. While it is important to present the most complete application possible, try to adopt some flexibility in your definition of how your application should look.
Every prospective med student applying in the midst of the pandemic has been impacted in some way. Med schools are adjusting their expectations, and so should applicants.