Research During Residency

To publish research in medical school, avoid these 4 mistakes

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

Publishing research in an academic journal as a medical student is a lofty goal. Doing so requires a novel question, dedication to details and compelling findings. 

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As part of the most recent AMA Research Challenge, Charles Lopresto, DO, offered insight on what it takes to get published during training. An AMA member, Dr. Lopresto’s research background includes serving on the editorial board of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

For medical students looking to showcase their research, the deadline for abstract submissions for the 2023 AMA Research Challenge— the largest national, multispecialty research event for medical students, residents and fellows, and international medical graduates—is July 24. In advance of that date, Dr. Lopresto outlined a few mistakes to avoid in pursuit of publishing a research project.

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If the main motivation behind your research isn’t well thought out and well-articulated, your chances of publication are slim, Dr. Lopresto said.

“This may seem obvious, but that's the main crux of making sure that you get published, is that—is your question a good question?” said Dr. Lopresto, a hospitalist in the internal medicine department at New York Presbyterian-Queens and Weill Cornell Medicine.

“Some things you want to consider: Has this question been asked before? Has it been answered before? Are there other next questions that others have asked? Oftentimes when you read an article, at the end in the discussion or conclusion section, an author might say, ‘more work is needed in this topic and these are the next questions that come next.’ Are you answering those questions? Is it a similar question?

Research is a detail-oriented endeavor, and that is key from the start.

“When you're designing your project, are you asking the next question?” Dr. Lopresto said. “Did you have complete data and a complete cohort? Envision the final paper from the beginning and plan accordingly. I always recommend you should overcollect data. It's better to be able to report a negative finding than have your paper rejected because you didn't ask a complete question.”

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When submitting your paper to journals, an incomplete context of your findings is likely to land your paper in the rejection pile, Dr. Lopresto said.

“You may do fantastic research and a fantastic study that proves something, but if people can't understand what it's proving or why it's important, then they may not be interested in it,” Dr. Lopresto said. “So you should focus on your literature review and place your study in the appropriate context of why this question is being asked and how it will impact your field.”

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It’s better to be conservative in your conclusions than getting too bullish on your own work, Dr. Lopresto said.

“One of the most important things that we do in research is actually to write a conclusion of some new information that we’ve birthed into the world,” Dr. Lopresto said. “So you should really be thinking carefully about what information are you sharing. Does your data actually support your conclusion? Just because you wanted to ask a certain question and expected a certain answer does not mean that your data always justify the conclusion that you wanted. I encourage everyone to be humble, write conservatively.”