The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA provides numerous opportunities for students to enhance their medical education by participating in biomedical and clinical research. In fact, UCLA research studies have received more than $275 million in funding this fiscal year alone. This budget creates more opportunities for students to learn by doing research, realizing more discoveries that benefit medical science and improving health outcomes for patients as a result.
The benefits of student involvement in research
Evidence-based medicine is effective medicine, which means physicians can critically analyze a published study and determine how best to care for their patients based on the quality of the research. Dr. Linda Baum, associate dean for medical student research and scholarship at DGSOM, says participating in research-based projects allows students to pursue these necessary skills. "If students understand how the research should be done, they can read an article and understand if it was done well," she says. "They're going to read a lot of articles, and I want them to be able to determine which studies will make them change their practice and which are provocative but need additional data before practice is changed."
Ultimately, Dr. Baum considers research to be a valuable mental exercise with far-reaching benefits: "Participating in research helps students think deeply about a problem, which causes them to ask more nuanced and sophisticated questions."
How to pursue an opportunity
Research can begin when students select a faculty mentor whose research area interests them. Students can meet their research faculty at events like the annual Summer Opportunities event — which allows students and faculty to network and discuss opportunities in family medicine, geriatrics and more — or by contacting a faculty mentor directly to discuss their project and the positions available. Students may also participate in the Short Term Training Program, which sponsors students who are engaged in summer research.
With 2,500 faculty members at UCLA, there are ample opportunities for students to find mentors, and according to Dr. Baum, there has never been a case wherein a student has been unable to find a mentor. This self-directed method of selecting a research opportunity allows students to more deeply engage with the material that interests them.
A student's role in research can take many forms depending on the area of study and the student's abilities. Some participate in UCLA research studies by assisting with data collection and analysis, whereas others perform patient interviews or work in laboratories that focus on surgical models, novel therapeutics for cancer, stem cell research and much more.
All participating students experience the research process firsthand and can learn how to design appropriate controls, interpret results, draft thorough patient questionnaires and even obtain Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for research involving human subjects.
Research opportunities at DGSOM
Students interested in research can participate across all four years of their medical school education, including summer programs and research electives during the school year. Research fellowships — funded by programs like National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute or the newly established Dean's Leaders in Health and Science and Scholars program — provide students the opportunity to add a year of full time research study before finishing their medical education. Another research pathway is the UCLA-Caltech Medical Science Training Program, wherein students complete a PhD in biomedical research between their first two and last two years of their MD.
Whether or not medical students choose to perform research after graduation, understanding its importance allows them to critically read biomedical literature and identify the types of research influencing their field — valuable abilities in any physician. The opportunity to get involved in research from their first year is an exceptional way for students to gain that knowledge early, and affords them the option to continue engaging in research at future stages of their career.
By Kyleigh Roessner