Surgeons are by nature investigators. Even those who do not actively seek research opportunities find that they often need to explore new methods in the operating room based on a patient’s individual circumstances. They make a scientific question, hypothesize (that their proposed solution in the operating room will benefit the patient), implement their hypothesis, make observations, and then form a conclusion based on their results. In short, a surgeon follows the scientific method every day.
Surgical residents may find that they want to pursue the more formalized scientific method, namely through the process of forming a scientific question, investigating, and then publishing the results for further peer review from the academic surgical world. Yet not all residency programs offer dedicated research time off for residents to do so. Even programs that do allow this time often only allow a limited number of residents to pursue this. Residents may also have other constraints such as family obligations, paying back student loans, and concerns over lengthening an already lengthy period of training. However, the good news is that residents can pursue academic research without take years of time away from their clinical residency time. Here are some potential options:
1) Talk to attendings in your field of interest to see if they are pursuing any clinical projects. They may be looking for help with completing these projects. This will also be a good opportunity for you to connect with them as potential mentors in this field.
2) Talk to residents who are in the midst of their dedicated research time. They may have projects that could benefit from your help, such as conducting literature reviews for use in planning their experiments and in writing their manuscripts. Experience with basic science, even indirectly, can help give unique perspective to one’s daily clinical surgery practice, and can also help residents more critically examine published basic science manuscripts when deciding if they should change their practices based on published research.
3) Talk to your fellow residents to see if they have clinical projects that they are already working on with attendings to see if they need any help. Working together with other residents can help all involved to move more efficiently to the ultimate goal of publishing a good piece of research.
While dedicated research time can help with this pursuit, surgical residents can benefit greatly from exposure to academic research even without taking dedicated time off.