Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dermatology Online Journal

Dermatology Online Journal bannerUC Davis

Medical student dermatology research in the United States

Main Content

Medical student dermatology research in the United States
Richard F Wagner MD and Boris Ioffe PharmD
Dermatology Online Journal 11 (1): 8

The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX.


The development of academic researchers is important for the future success of dermatology, but few dermatology trainees are entering academic practice in the United States. Because many successful researchers begin to focus on research skills during medical school, an electronic survey was conducted to evaluate dermatology research opportunities and benchmarks for U.S. medical students. First- and second-year medical students participated in case studies, clinical research projects, and laboratory benchwork, but participation significantly increased during the third and fourth years. Funded programs had higher student participation than nonfunded programs and were also more likely to have medical students present their research at meetings. A wide variety of research opportunities are currently offered to U.S. medical students, so a lack of research opportunities in medical school does not explain the dwindling supply of academic dermatologists in the United States. Because funding appears to be an important factor for successful medical student research, new mechanisms of funding should be identified and developed.


Medical student participation in academic research serves many educational goals, including the early identification of future academicians. Little information exists about dermatology research opportunities for medical students at U.S. medical schools and residency programs. We therefore conducted a survey to determine currently what opportunities are available.


After IRB approval, an eighteen-item survey (Fig. 1) was emailed as an attachment to Association of Professors of Dermatology (APD) members listed in the 2002 Iowa Dermatology Listserve. After two reminders were emailed requesting survey completion, results were tabulated and the χ-square test was used to determine statistical significance.


Responses were returned from 36 institutions. The responders were from institutions with varied regional locations and sizes of their dermatology department or division (Fig. 2).

There were 21 programs that reported at least one first- or second-year medical student participating in case reports or case series, 20 programs had at least one medical student participating in clinical research projects and 16 programs had at least one medical student doing laboratory benchwork. Medical student research activity increased significantly as the students advanced into their third and fourth years of study; student participation increased to 35 programs (p &#8804 0.001) for case reports and case series, 31 programs (p &#8804 0.01) for clinical research projects and 25 programs (p &#8804 0.05) for laboratory benchwork. These data are summarized in Table 1. There were 29 programs that had students present dermatology research at meetings. There were 25 programs that funded medical-student research (14 programs $1-$5,000, 6 programs $5,000-$10,000 and 5 programs with more than $10,000). Funding impacted on the likelihood that students would present their research at a meeting (p &#8804 0.001, Fig. 3).

There were 33 of 36 programs that offered at least one elective in dermatology research and 29 of 33 programs permitted visiting medical students to participate in such electives. All programs allowed at least 4 weeks allotted for a research elective; eleven programs allowed up to 8 weeks and twelve programs allowed more than 8 weeks. Most programs (nineteen) had no specific method to inform the students about their research opportunities; other programs used in-class announcements, e-mail, and posters or signs. There were twelve programs that had special programs for minority medical students, with nine out the twelve participating in the American Academy of Dermatology Minority Medical Student Mentor Program. Eight of the programs allowed their participants to receive an advanced degree such as master in science for their participation in dermatology research.

Although general dermatology was the most commonly reported area of research (35 programs), other areas included basic science (24), dermatological surgery (21), dermatopathology (20), and pediatric dermatology (16). There were nine programs that reported opportunities in more specialized areas of dermatology research, including dermatoepidemiology, educational research, health-services research, contact dermatitis, cutaneous lymphoma, clinical trials, health-care policy, dermatopharmacology and quality-of-life research. Faculty supervising medical student research had a varied educational background. All research supervisors had an MD, 75 percent had a PhD, 19 percent of had an MPH, and 3 percent had either a JD or MBA.

Most of the responding programs (34/36, or 94 %) had a dual MD-PhD degree opportunity for their medical students, and thirteen programs reported MD-PhD students participating in dermatology research.


Exposure to research in medical school permits medical students an opportunity to determine whether they have talent and interest in this type of career. Several studies have shown that medical-student research experience is predictive for postgraduate research involvement [1] and later careers in research and academics [2, 3]. Other advantages of research activity in medical school for medical students are its usefulness to the educational mission of teaching logical scientific and critical thought. Research participation by medical students may also help candidates succeed in competition for limited clinical residency positions. In a survey of medical students at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine (Memphis), 63 percent responded that research experience helped them attain a residency [2].

Institutions answering this educational survey about resources for medical students with research interests in dermatology may show responder bias, because those programs with established research opportunities for medical students may have been more likely to participate. Even if this were the case, the results of this survey show that many U.S. medical schools and dermatology residency programs provide the infrastructure and financial resources necessary for medical student success in dermatology research. Programs supporting research by medical students can benchmark their success through student presentations, abstracts, awards, grants, manuscripts submitted, and manuscripts published.

Institutional funding of medical-student research appears to be of critical importance with regard to the ability of medical students to present their research findings at meetings. At Stanford University School of Medicine, where there are a variety of funding mechanisms to support medical-student research, 90 percent of medical students engage in research, with 75 percent having at least one published manuscript (45 % first author) and 52 percent present their research at a national meeting [4]. A flexible and innovative medical-school curriculum, such as the one at Stanford University School of Medicine, permits medical students the time necessary to successfully conduct original scientific investigation.

This research was presented in part to the Dermatology Teachers Exchange Group (DTEG) on February 7, 2004 (Washington, DC) in conjunction with the 62nd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.


1. Segal S, Lloyd T, Houts PS, Stillman PL, Jungas RL, Greer RB 3rd, The association between students' research involvement in medical school and their postgraduate medical activities, Acad Med. 65(8):530-533, 1990.

2. Solomon SS, Tom SC, Pichert J, Wasserman D, Powers AC, Impact of medical student research in the development of physician scientists, J Investig Med. 51(3):149-156, 2002.

3. Brancati FL, Mead LA, Levine DM, et al, Early predictors of career achievement in academic medicine, JAMA. 267(10):1372-1376, 1992.

4. Jacobs CD, Cross PC, The value of medical student research: the experience at Stanford University School of Medicine, Med Educ. 29(5):342-346, 1995.

© 2005 Dermatology Online Journal