On Research and Specialty Choice

January 6, 2014

Happy Monday ya'll! Boy does this mark a big Monday for me - I'm heading back to work! I'm so so thankful that I'm heading back to lab though and not onto a clinical clerkship in the hospital - in lab, although I still work full time, I can head in and out on my time, take breaks when I want, and even have my own room for pumping (my lab is the best)! And my PI and fellow lab mates are almost all moms too :)

I thought for this edition of Med School Monday I'd share a tiny bit about my research as many of you have questions about what kind of research I do/have done and what specialty I want to go into!


I'm currently working in the dermatology department at my hospital, and my lab is a translational lab - meaning we do basic science that has very real implications for human medicine. We're a T cell immunology lab, and although we have many different projects going on in the lab, the big picture is figuring out what role T cells (especially skin resident T cells) play in normal, healthy skin and in diseased states like various types of skin cancers. Much of my work focuses on really interesting cancers that are self-regressing - meaning by all definitions they look like cancers, but for some reason they go away on their own - why is this, and can we harness what we learn to treat skin cancers that actually act like cancer? Our samples are all from patients at the skin cancer clinic in the hospital or from face lifts and abdominoplasties (for "normal" skin) that we grow in culture or use to make humanized-mice. It's really cool stuff!!!

Why am I doing this research? Well part of me really likes dermatology - I'm a very visual person (um, can you tell by my blog and photos?) and I find it so powerful that sometimes the first indicators of systemic disease are found in the skin, that you can diagnose something just with your eyes (and a microscope of course), that you can make such profound changes for the individual suffering with something that the whole world can see. I haven't made up my mind yet, though, I also love radiology, for the same fact that it's visual, you have to continue using all the medicine you know, but at the cost of losing most patient contact. Rheumatology is also on the list (lots in common with dermatology, actually), and some other specialties still haven't been crossed off. We'll see what I end up deciding, but because dermatology is so competitive it's important to get research experience in and pump out some publications - so that's what I'm doing in case that's what I decide to pursue! Pumping out papers... and milk.

17 comments:

  1. Dermatology sounds really cool, so many people write it off just because they assume it'll be "gross", but I like what you said about dermatology and "visual learning". Good luck on your return!

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    1. Thanks so much!! And thank you for being such an active follower, I love all of your comments!

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  2. When and/or how did you establish a relationship with your PI to start working in her lab? (Basically, when during one's medical school experience would this start?)

    Also, is research is the only way to help distinguish oneself for more competitive residencies?

    Thanks!

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    1. I didn't even meet with my PI until the Spring of my 3rd year, that's pretty much when I decided I wanted to do a year of research. A lot of students do research the summer after their first year (which I did, but with a different PI looking at breast cancer genetics), and continue throughout their medical school years with that same PI. It depends on the residency, as there are other ways to distinguish oneself, but published research is definitely helpful :)

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  3. Dermatology Rocks! I'm a pre-medical student and I recently began scribing for a dermatology office thinking that I'd mainly see acne and cosmetic patients. Boy was I wrong! Dermatology is such a compelling field, and I could totally see you as a dermatologist. As you mentioned, while dermatology is one of the most competitive residencies to be accepted into, I think you will make it into one without any problems! You are such an inspiration! God Bless!

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  4. Great post :) Share more of med school posts, please!!

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  5. Laura do you think it's possible to get research done & published while in med school? Andrea at Doctor-In-The-House did two research electives in ophthalmology, and I was hoping I could do that as well without taking a year off. But if I have to do the latter, then I will! Thanks so much for this post!

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    1. Chantelle, this is DEFINITELY possible, and lots and lots of students do this! A few things that make it easier - working in a clinical research lab (vs a basic science lab) - case studies are really easy publish and take no time, as opposed to basic science which can take months/years to come up with enough data to publish (experiments always go wrong haha!). Also, establishing a relationship with a PI the summer of your first year helps as well, the longer you're in the lab the greater the chances of being published. I took the year off more because it killed two birds with one stone - I could take my maternity leave, have flexible time to spend with Liv, get paid through a stipend, AND publish! OK more than two birds! ;)

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  6. Is your doctoral program a combined MD/Research program? You've probably answered this already but I am curious. I'm thinking of going to Harvard for their Masters of Educational Policy program in the fall of 2015

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    1. My program is not combined, many students just decide to do extra research as Harvard will fund an entire year and tuition is free for the year.

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  7. This is SO helpful Laura, thank you! I'll be attending medical school next year and reading your blog always makes me so excited :) Do you know people who are getting an MPH degree in addition to their MD's? I'm considering joining an MD/MPH combined program because I do have an interest in public health, but I'm a little worried that I'll end up becoming interested in a specialty that's completely unrelated and then a) I won't have enough of a research background to be competitive for residencies and b) all that work I put into getting an extra degree will go to waste. Any thoughts on this?

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    1. Hi! So sorry I'm getting back to this late! I know PLENTY of people doing MD/MPHs, I think it's one of the most common dual degree programs here. If you're really unsure about the MPH, I'd suggest going with a program that allows joining the MPH program later. Also, regarding the utility of the MPH, there really aren't any specialties that are unrelated to public health - you can use it in any specialty so I wouldn't worry about that!

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  8. Hi! I'm so glad I found your blog through Ig. You are fabulous! I'd love your opinion on the most important factors for matching into residency. If you had to rank them?

    I'm a second year med student who's still undecided on specialty. I know that Step 1 is huge, and I plan to score as high as possible (any tips welcome! lol). However, I haven't exactly honored all my classes so far (my school uses the honors/high pass/pass system); I even had to remediate physiology in the summer after my first year (personal issues) :/ Do you think my chances of getting into anything remotely competitive are bleak? I'm hoping to squeeze in some research next year and/or 4th year. I've heard that your "grades" from rotations are actually more important than the first year's because they comment on your character and professionalism. Would you agree with that?

    I appreciate any advice you have! Thanks.

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    1. Hi!! Thanks so much :) I don't feel 100% comfortable ranking the most important factors for residency as I'm going through it myself soon (ie, I'd love to know too!!) It also varies so much depending on what specialty you're trying to match in. Overall though, I'd have to say Step 1, clinical grades (I'd definitely agree with the clinical grades being waaaaayyyy more important than class grades, I'm not even sure anyone cares about them at all - although my school's classes were all pass/fail), research or something that shows commitment to whatever field you're interested in, letters... those are the biggest ones I can think of right now. So you've got plenty of time to make yourself a competitive applicant in any specialty you choose!! Hope this helps a bit, I'll do a more formal post on this later when I've got a little more firsthand experience under my belt!

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  9. Whatever you choose I am willing to bet you'll be a phenomenal doctor. But, take it from me as a patient, the world needs more, good rheumatologists. It's been 5 years since my battle started and I am still struggling to find a good, compassionate rheumatologist who is willing to think outside the box and, more importantly, will BELIEVE me.

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