Is research experience important for IMGs?

You may be wondering about the importance of research experience in relation to your chance of matching. The decision whether or not you obtain U.S. research experience prior to residency should be based on a combination of a variety of factors. Perhaps the biggest factor is whether or not research will help you to obtain a residency position.

Does having research experience lead to better match success?

According to the 2013 IMG Post-Match Survey, approximately 22% of IMG match applicants obtained clinical research experience at a training institution. Interestingly, this figure was similar regardless of whether or not the applicant matched, got a position through the SOAP or failed to match. Thus in the 2013 cohort there did not appear to be any significant improvement in the overall match success rate with research experience from training institutions.

Fewer IMGs obtained clinical research at a private facility. About 3% of those who matched, 16% of IMGs who obtained a position through SOAP and 5% of those who did not match had this research experience type.

What this data does not do is to break down the percentage of match success by specialty. You will see below that the importance of research experience varies by specialty. Also keep in mind that individual programs within a single specialty place different importance on a candidate’s research experience.

What specialties tend to like research experience?

The 2012 Program Director Survey shows that the importance placed on research experience varies by specialty. In this survey, program directors were asked to rate how important it was for applicants (both IMGs and non-IMGs) to have demonstrated involvement and interest in research in both selecting interview candidates and then ranking them for the match.

The table below shows relevant data for selected specialties.

Percentage of programs citing research in selecting applicants to interview

Importance rating for ranking applicants

Internal Medicine



Family Medicine


















General Surgery







The middle column shows the percentage of programs citing demonstrated involvement and interest in research for selecting applicants to interview. You will see that family medicine has the least number of programs prioritizing research experience as a selection criteria for interview invitations. The numbers for internal medicine and pediatrics are slightly higher and psychiatry is higher still.

The right-hand column shows the mean importance ratings of factors in ranking applicants for the match. The scale is from 1 (not at all important) to 5 (very important). Again, you will see that family medicine has the least weight placed on research experience. Internal medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry have a similar weighting.

For both columns, you can see that neurosurgery programs place high importance on research experience.

Keep in mind that a good way to demonstrate involvement and interest in research is by publishing articles in academic journals and presenting at local and national meetings.

Two important considerations


So should you go ahead and arrange to do research? You may be guided somewhat by the above numbers. Apart from thinking about research in relation to matching, there are at least two other considerations.

1. Is doing research the best way to spend your time?

Remember that your residency program application is a multifaceted package. You need to think about doing research as part of this overall package. After some thought you may find that the best way to spend your time may not be research, but other activities such as getting US clinical experience, further employment at your home country, or other endeavors that may be more useful.

2. Do you like research?

If you know that doing research is not your thing, then you may not want to put yourself through the pain and sacrifice of committing to dedicated research in the U.S.

There are other things you may want to focus your energy on which can still add value to your CV. Keep in mind also that you can publish articles without spending time in a “formal” research position. This can involve case reports, review articles, or other publications in academic journals.

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4 Replies to “Is research experience important for IMGs?”

  1. lazaros tzelves

    Another ”hot” subject covered here! Thanks again Shinji! I believe you lie somewhere in the mind of every aspired candidate! I believe that research should be done after a long thought and determining the exact target of everybody!


  2. Thais Magalhaes

    Thanks for the post Shinji! I especially like that you take IMGs’ social life and well-being into account when writing your posts. In the past few months I’ve been really trying to do more research by joining three of my professors on their research work, but as you probably know, it is not certain whether or not we’ll be able to publish our results in an internationally recognized journal. It is good to know that having published papers is not absolutely necessary for every single specialty.

    I have one question though: would having a published article in a Peds journal really help me match into another specialty? I’ve got 2.5 more years of medical school to go, and as you may remember, I am not absolutely sure of which specialty to follow yet. I’ve been working on a research project in Neonatology, and so I was wondering what impact it would have in case I decided to do my residency in Psychiatry, for example.


    • Shinji Yasugi Post author

      Hi Thais,

      thanks for reading the post and commenting. Your question about publications is a really interesting one.

      I think that it’s not all that uncommon for medical students to become interested in several specialties while progressing through medical school. I personally think that involvement in academic projects, even in a different specialty to the one(s) you ultimately apply to, can be helpful. It shows that you are interested, dedicated and have collaborative and writing/data-analysis ability. These are all strengths.

      I once interviewed a really outstanding AMG applicant for my program who was very interested in surgery throughout his time in medical school. He had published several articles in academic surgical journals as well as posters. He then had a major turn in his career trajectory after his psychiatry clerkship and decided to pursue a career in psychiatry. When I interviewed him, I could tell that he would do well in our program because of his thoughtful personal statement and excellent letters of recommendations (2 from psychiatrists and one by a surgeon who clearly thought highly of his abilities and commented that he would make a good psychiatrist) as well as outstanding USMLE Step 1 and 2 CK scores and a nicely balanced CV. His publications just added weight to his academic ability and potential as a resident. I think that past performance has predictive value, and so I would expect that he would probably like to take part in psychiatry-related projects in the future.

      So I would encourage you to be involved in your projects and see where it takes you. In general, I certainly don’t think it can hurt your application to residency programs. It’s also nice to be able to contribute in any way to the advancement of medical knowledge!



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