Applying for med school, you probably already know just how important research experience can be. But on top of an already long list of prereqs and extracurriculars, it’s often difficult to secure. So…
What to do if you have no research experience for medical school?
Don’t panic. If other areas of your application are competitive, then it’s not necessarily a big deal. Med schools admissions often only “prefer” research. They don’t make it an absolute must.
Of course, to be sure whether the schools you plan on applying to see research this way, you’ll need to check with their individual admissions criteria.
And if you’re not in that position, then this is the article for you.
- How to get research opportunities fast
- Why your reason for not having research experience may be important
- If you can actually get into med school without it
As a med student that’s gone through the whole process myself, I understand the anxiety that comes with the question. Hopefully, this article can help show you the types of things you can do to feel more positive.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
How to get research for medical school fast
Here’s what to do if you’re in a bind and need to hit the ground running.
Head to your pre-med/pre-health advisor immediately
The best place to get started is at your college’s pre-health advising services. They’ll likely have contacts or know of programs local to the area. Reach out to them to make connections on your behalf.
Get volunteer exposure in a lab
If you’re a non-trad applicant or your school doesn’t have a pre-health advisor, hit Google and get a list of research labs in your city/area.
Start going through contacts, ring numbers, and reach out to heads of research teams (or people in other positions) via LinkedIn (yes, it pays to have a LinkedIn account).
Just getting exposure to a lab environment can often be a good substitute for actually doing research.
It’ll show you’re at least familiar!
Search research faculties and do cold outreach
The same goes for colleges and teaching hospitals (even those where you aren’t enrolled).
Start contacting people listed as faculty and explain your circumstances and your willingness to commit as a volunteer. Possibly even consider dropping by in person if you know the specific locations.
If you already have the creds then look for research jobs. If you don’t, then know that you can score entry-level jobs as an assistant via sites like glassdoor.com and indeed.com.
Hunt for city-specific research/shadowing summer programs
Look for dedicated research internships and programs in your city (I detail a lot of them in my shadowing/research guides).
Most are competitive and require you to apply far in advance, but they can still be useful to know about if you run out of time and consider re-applying for med school again in the future.
Consider virtual/online opportunities
These types of programs, although rare, can be fairly easy to get started with owing to the fact you don’t have to travel anywhere.
Start your search for them on the web now.
What’s the easiest research to get involved with?
It’s probably best to apply for jobs as a research assistant. You can usually land jobs here without any specific credentials or STEM background.
Research jobs/internships in the public health sector are also in high demand.
They’re often just as relevant to an application as dedicated medical research too.
What happens if you still can’t get research experience?
Shoot for as high an MCAT and GPA as you can. Then focus on other extracurriculars. Try and shape them so that you pick up leadership experience, important responsibilities, and some aspect of community involvement.
Engage your passions, get to work and then write the best personal statements of your life.
Why don’t you have research experience?
Although a general browse of Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) data suggests that around 75% of applicants have research experience, your reason for not having any may be legitimate.
If you didn’t have time because you were pursuing some other important extracurricular, then that’s fine.
Adcoms will recognize the passion you placed in other things and hopefully still see you’re capable of medicine.
If you didn’t get any research experience but had the time and never tried, then that’s a different story.
In that case, you better hope the extracurriculars you detail have something special about them (or that you get a seriously impressive letter of recommendation), or try and get some by following the tips above.
Either way, the reason is important. It can make or break your application.
Can you get into medical school without research experience?
The short answer is yes (even if it does put you at a disadvantage).
As I’ve mentioned before, research is not a prerequisite for most med schools.
If you have amazing extracurriculars and an incredible GPA/MCAT score, that’ll equalize the playing field more. Especially if you consider Adcoms teams allocate points to different aspects of an application.
But you’ll also stand more of a chance if you consider the following things…
Non-research heavy medical schools
Med schools outside of the top 20, or those considered “less competitive”, might look at your lack of research experience more favorably.
Because they’re not as dependent on research for funding, they’re not as demanding of it from their matriculants.
You could also tailor your application to what they do well outside of research (suggesting that you’re “more interested” in primary care, for example).
I go into all this in more detail here:
Another possible avenue to explore is applying for state schools.
Based on the idea that they “favor in-state applicants”, they might overlook your lack of research credentials.
Your lack of research may be a lot more explainable if you’re applying as a career changer or non-traditional student.
Diversity of experience can do a lot to make up for it.
And if socioeconomic or minority issues come into play, you might be in a better position (than you would otherwise) too.
It’s just something else to consider!
When you have no research experience: Reddit’s recommendations
One thing that can help you keep from feeling disheartened is reading positive stories.
Luckily, the r/premed community has a ton of them when it comes to students making it into med school with zero research experience.
Take a look at some of these anecdotes for a start.
I didn’t have any research and I got into a top 35 school (for research per U.S. news rankings)– max_923
I got IIs to multiple top 10s with basically no research because it just never interested me (literally what I said in my interviews). It’s possible.– Luvestosplooge
If you have long-term clinical experience and non-clinical volunteering, that should be fine. I have zero research under my belt and was accepted.– sagasheus
If you really don’t want to do research, and you have the funds for it, it wouldn’t hurt to apply to like 5-8 that you’re interested in. I would say your interview chances are pretty low, but as long as you apply to plenty of mid-tier schools you shouldn’t have an issue getting an acceptance somewhere!– steaklover4
I got in without. But — I’m a non trad with a weird trajectory where my lack of research was explainable.– awkwardpennster
You definitely shouldn’t worry if you have no research experience for medical school. Due to your circumstances, it can be understandable. And if you’re strong in other areas of your application it’s often less of an issue.
Bear in mind too that some candidates have a ton of research experience but might be horrible at writing about it (see: How To Write About Research For Medical School (Important Tips!)) – that could count in your favor!
But if you are still concerned, don’t panic either. Follow the advice above to start getting involved as soon as you can.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in digital marketing and journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.