Guidelines and Rationale for Enrollment, Course Requirements, Evaluation

1. Students identify a mentor and submit a research proposal for review by the Medical Student Research Committee (MSRC) during the spring semester of their first year.

  • The research proposal should be extensive and complete enough to allow a student to pursue a research topic from beginning to completion for ultimate submission to a scientific journal. Although submission to a journal is highly encouraged, it is not an absolute requirement for Research Distinction. The proposal should contain a list of questions proposed, background of the research topic, methods to be employed, significance of the research topic, an estimated timeline of the experiments to be carried out, references, and a statement of endorsement from the mentor. Guidelines for the mentor's role and expectations for the medical student will be provided to the mentor prior to starting the program.
  • The Medical Student Research Committee is a faculty-nominated and elected committee, composed of 6 members from the basic and clinical sciences elected for staggered 3-year terms. Dr. Marlys Witte, Professor of Surgery and Director of the Medical Student Research Program serves as ex officio member. Three medical students actively involved in research also sit on the committee.

2. The student must complete a minimum of 240 extracurricular hours if continuing an ongoing student research project (or 400 extracurricular hours if new project) in the laboratory or otherwise engaged in the conduct of the approved research project. This will be documented on time sheets. Students must demonstrate competency in the scientific method throughout the project.

  • If a research topic requires the use of animal or human subjects, radioactivity, or hazardous substances or devices, the appropriate mandated safety courses must be completed. These courses are not included in the 240 (ongoing) or 400 (new) extracurricular hours minimum.
  • Most investigations will require more than 400 hours of research work. Students must understand that the research project will be considered complete when the research topic has been fully investigated with the approval of the mentor, not upon completion of the requisite hours.
  • The scientific method consists of developing a hypothesis, performing the right experiments to answer the questions stemming from the hypothesis, collecting and analyzing the results and drawing conclusions, while remaining current with and utilizing the current literature surrounding the research topic.
  • Lab hours from the summer Medical Student Research Program may not be used towards the completion of the 240 (ongoing) or 400 (new) extracurricular hour minimum but the research accomplished may be included as part of the overall research project.
  • Since research is unpredictable, semester updates on the progress of the student's research will be provided to MSRC. The updates must be signed and approved by the student's mentor prior to submission.

3. Students must present at 2 MRSA journal club or Datablitz sessions and attend an additional 6 elective-sponsored meetings or seminars, up to 2 of which may be MRSA journal club or Datablitz sessions.

  • The meetings/seminar sessions also will give medical students the opportunity to network and present their research, which will be especially helpful for students presenting at international/national meetings by providing practice in front of a large audience prior to their actual presentation.

4. Upon completion of their research projects, the students will be required to deliver a final 30-minute presentation, which should be designed to include 10 minutes for questions. Students also are required to submit a full-length paper (minimum of 10 pages in length in standard journal format with illustrations, ideally ready for submission to a scientific journal) to the MSRC for approval.

5. The mentor will be required to submit a letter noting the student's competence in the scientific method and completion of laboratory requirements, as well as a statement citing the mentor's recommendation for “Research Distinction.” MSRC will meet with each candidate and address outstanding questions about the research work and fulfillment of the requirement.


University of Arizona medical students are currently participating in research projects in the health sciences in addition to meeting the graduation requirements of the medical school curriculum. These students are often publishing their research in national/international journals and participating in regional and national conferences, bringing honor to the College of Medicine and furthering the discovery mission of this Research I University. In addition, the College of Medicine has been receiving further recognition due to the numerous current and past medical students who have won awards at these regional and national meetings, attained advanced research/faculty positions, and gained attention from the international biomedical community.

The concept and implementation of credit for research is not new. Students at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, depending upon what specialty they choose, currently can receive maximum elective credit ranging from 12-30 units for basic or patient-oriented research – but only in the senior elective year. In main campus departments, such as Molecular and Cellular Biology, undergraduates with declared majors can receive up to 13 units per semester for independent study including supervised research prior to their senior year. The Medical Research Student Association* also found that many medical schools throughout the United States offer electives in research, designate the MD degree with Honors or Research Distinction, or require research for graduation. The number of schools with such programs is increasing and includes the University of Washington, University of California in Los Angeles, University of New Mexico, University of Oklahoma, New York University and Duke University, among others.

We believe that the University of Arizona and the College of Medicine can reap great benefits by modeling itself after these programs. Innovating this effort is particularly timely in view of the national push to enhance clinical research preparedness. In addition, the importance of having a research experience for many competitive residency programs gives further reason to help distinguish our students, giving them an advantage when competing with students from other institutions that either have research requirements, academic-credit based research electives or a research pathway prior to the senior year.

Providing credit for participation in extracurricular but medically related programs already exists in the University of Arizona College of Medicine curriculum. Precedence has been established in the form of the popular Commitment to Underserved People (CUP) Program and the new Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Teaching course (Med 896). In both of these electives, students begin the work of the elective prior to Year IV.

As before, with these ideas and precedents in mind, and with the growing interest within the University of Arizona College of Medicine, we propose an academic-credit based research elective that can be taken prior to the senior year and therefore enhance research awareness, skills, and productivity during the continuum of medical school. This type of program will encourage more medical students to get involved in research and enable the students to graduate with “Distinction in Research.” Ultimately, this experience will enhance a student's overall level of education and lead to greater care for future patients. Further, this program should serve to encourage more students to be interested in being at the forefront of medicine by being scientific physicians, as well as to help fill the gap in the decreasing numbers of translational physician scientists. In doing so, the overall quality of health care and biomedical science for our nation will be improved.

In conclusion, the Medical Research Student Association* would like the research elective to be implemented in the spring semester, 2000. Ideally, participants in the program will apply for admission to the program in the beginning of spring of their first year or alternatively at a later time as long as they complete their research distinction requirements before graduation. We think that competency in research along with an understanding of how to critically read scientific journals and communicate research findings are important aspects of the medical educational process that will positively enhance our performance as future faculty, research scientists and/or practitioners.


* What is the Medical Research Student Association (MRSA)?

As future physicians, being able to critically read a scientific journal along with keeping abreast of new medical innovations is an important facet of practice that can profoundly impact patient outcomes. Because the University of Arizona is a Research I institution, the opportunities to stay on top of current medical literature and learn from world-renowned medical researchers should be multifaceted and numerous. With this in mind, students from the class of 2002 started the Medical Research Student Association. The organization draws from university resources to encourage the development of translational scientists, including scientific physicians as well as physician- scientists, who will work to make important/vital connections between basic science and clinical practice to benefit their patients. This is why MRSA is proposing a "Research Distinction Track" elective.

As the support and interest generated within the class of 2002 for medical school research opportunities has blossomed, other classes (2001 & 2003) have begun to express an interest in this collaborative effort and in building a student research community at the University of Arizona.