May 25, 2022

Ultrasound Research Mini-Series Part One: Introduction to Ultrasound Research

Frances Russell, MD, FACEP, Associate Professor, Ultrasound Research Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, Indiana University

Lynn Roppolo, MD, FACEP, Professor, Ultrasound Section, Director of Resident Scholarly Activity, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern

Over the next year, we will be discussing ultrasound research through a four-part mini-series. The aim of part one is to introduce readers to the importance of research, identifying a research niche, and finding a mentor.

Many individuals who decide not to do research have a somewhat stereotypical opinion of research simply being daunting and laborious work with limited benefits. Research is hard work that can be challenging and frustrating. However, the rewards to your career are numerous and go far beyond having a publication in a scientific journal or an entry on your curriculum vitae (CV). There is a tremendous amount of professional and intellectual growth, as well as a multitude of opportunities that may come out of such an experience.

As medical students, early exposure to the scientific inquiry can help students understand and appreciate the strengths and limitations of the science that guides our clinical practice. Being involved in investigative work to scientifically find answers to clinical questions can help lay a foundation of knowledge to complement traditional coursework learned in the classroom and on clinical rotations. The experience also provides us with opportunities to improve our doctoring skills by working as a team, planning and organizing, problem-solving and critical thinking, and searching for and reviewing the medical literature. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to work more intimately with a faculty member who can not only provide mentorship for research, but can also assist with their professional development during a challenging period of their lives which can sometimes seem overwhelming. This faculty member can also serve as a potential letter writer when the student applies for residency and is within a distinctive position to write a powerful individualized letter highlighting the strengths, which can be a powerful endorsement for their residency application.

As residents, research experiences can have similar benefits as described above and more. For some residents, this research experience may be a major steppingstone in their professional development if it ends up influencing long-term career decisions. It can also have a profound impact on future employment. If a resident decides to pursue a career in academics or a fellowship after residency, research experience will most definitely improve the competitiveness of the application. The research may also ignite other academic interests and open doors to build a future academic career such as grant funding, more sophisticated research, and an advanced degree.

For faculty, most academic institutions expect scholarly productivity and research is high on the priority list. The challenges many junior faculty face in doing research are having the skillset to do research, finding a niche, and getting a good mentor. Fortunately, these barriers can be overcome but require that the faculty be proactive, persistent, and network with individuals both inside and outside of their home institution. One research abstract presentation or publication can inspire more research productivity, grant funding, speaking opportunities as an “expert,” leadership experiences, and collaboration with others. Although not the primary motivator, these would all be impressive additions to any CV and viewed favorably by promotion and tenure committees. Lastly, research involvement helps create a more balanced academic career and provides us with a rewarding sense of accomplishment once the hard work is complete and the manuscript is accepted for publication.

If you are even remotely interested in research, but do not know where to start, there are a multitude of resources available for individuals at all levels. The Society of Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) has several online resources on their website, several lectures at their annual meeting and have a research course called Advanced Research and Methodology Evaluation and Design (ARMED)

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) has a course called Emergency Medicine Basic Research Skills (EMBRS) Workshop.

The Council of Residency Directors (CORD) in Emergency Medicine offer a course for medical education research called the Medical Education Research Program or MERC.

Identifying Your Niche

Finding a niche can be challenging but is incredibly important. Each individual should find one to two areas within point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) that interests them the most. A niche is vital for multiple reasons. For one, by establishing yourself within a niche you will become and be seen by others as an “expert” in that particular area. In addition to this, by focusing on one or two areas you will be knowledgeable about what has already been published in the field, who the other authors publishing within the same field are, and what research questions require further exploration. Knowing the existing literature will make it easier to answer these questions, can lead to novel research ideas, and help with grant funding as grant committees want to see that you have expertise in your field. Additionally, having a single niche will be important for promotion and tenure as your medical school dean and department chair will want to see that you have a research focus.

Ways to identify your niche may start with asking yourself the following questions: What interests me? What do I enjoy reading and learning about? What research or data do I feel is missing from the field of POCUS? What am I already working on that I could turn into a project? Other ideas to find a niche include networking within the POCUS field and talking with your mentor to get their opinion.

Finding a Mentor

Whether you’re new to research or have been doing it a while, mentorship is imperative. A great mentor will be able to review your ideas, research plans, grants, and manuscripts, and give helpful feedback. They should be someone who has time to meet with you on a regular basis to check in. They should also be someone you respect, trust, and someone that you will listen to their feedback. A mentor should be there to guide you, answer your research questions, all the while preparing you for independence. They may also direct you towards research opportunities, grants to consider applying for, and help with networking with other experts in your niche.

A mentoring panel is where you have multiple mentors that each bring something unique to the table. For example, let’s say your niche is in regional anesthesia; you may have one mentor who is a POCUS expert in regional anesthesia, one who is an anesthesiologist, and another who is an emergency medicine faculty with vast experience running clinical trials.

Finding a mentor/mentoring panel can be difficult and quite intimidating, especially if you are newer to research. Research mentors can be found through departmental leadership or research leaders in your own department. A mentor can be someone outside your department or university who happens to have similar research interests to you. Mentors can assist with finding grants, helping to find resources for statistical help, help with submission to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), and any other necessary research support.

Easy ways to identify potential mentors include looking on PubMed and Clinical to see who is conducting and publishing research related to your niche. You may also consider becoming involved with an ultrasound sub-committee through ACEP, SAEM, or AAEM. For POCUS-specific researchers, check out the following resource:

National POCUS Research List

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