Vessel density maps of a healthy control, a patient with mild cognitive impairment, and a patient with Alzheimer’s diseaseVessel density maps of a healthy control (A), a patient with mild cognitive impairment (B), and a patient with Alzheimer’s disease (C). Image courtesy of Cason Robbins.

Dr. Brenda Armstrong, former associate dean for admissions, used to say to all Duke Med interviewees, “Science is a moving target, and we have to move with it.” This spirit is the driving force of ongoing research activities at Duke, where students have the opportunity to dedicate a year (or more!) of their medical training to research. Students explore clinically relevant, translational questions through basic science, clinical research, and the medical humanities. They work with dedicated clinical mentors across all medical specialties, benefit from Duke’s vast research resources, and help advance scientific understanding of disease and elevate the standard of clinical practice.

The abstracts submitted for Duke’s annual AOA Day research symposium demonstrate the breadth and depth of medical student research at Duke. Scroll through the 2018-2019 AOA Day Program to see examples of specific projects spanning all areas of medicine and all types of research.

Basic Science Research

Duke prides itself on training its medical students as physician-scientists. This is made evident by the tremendous opportunities afforded for basic science research, as well as the support provided through the Office of Physician-Scientist Development (OPSD). Duke physician scientists and research scientists are eager to mentor medical students and work diligently to create an engaging and fruitful research experience—whether students plan to take a single third year, several third years, or complete a PhD. Students complete lab-based research, work with animal models, and utilize cutting edge technology, all with the aim of advancing scientific understanding of pathophysiology and potential therapeutics. After a robust basic science research experience, Duke students are prepared to take what they’ve learned back to the wards and continue to engage with the scientific literature throughout their careers.

Recent student publications:


HepG2 hepatocytes stained with trypan blue in preparation for cell countingHepG2 hepatocytes stained with trypan blue in preparation for cell counting. Image courtesy of Samantha Halpern.

Clinical Research

Duke’s clinical research is active, innovative, and always expanding. Students have the opportunity to get involved with clinical research studies as their primary research project or as a side project to complement their other work (or even other degrees!). By getting involved with multi-institutional studies, analyzing pre-existing data sets, or developing and executing an entirely new project, students pursue answers to clinical questions and solutions to clinical problems. Students are involved in every part of the clinical research process—from hypothesis formation, study design, and IRB approval to data collection, statistical analysis, and publication. Throughout the clinical research experience, students form connections within the clinical research community, expand their understanding of medicine and disease, and gain foundational experience for their future careers.

Recent student publications:


Heather Frank presents her work at the 2019 Pediatric Academic Society meetingHeather Frank presents her work at the 2019 Pediatric Academic Society meeting. Image courtesy of Heather Frank.

Research in the Humanities and Medical Education

Beyond the traditional tracks of basic science and clinical research, Duke students invest in research in the medical humanities (medical history, ethics, and theology) and in medical education. Exposure to these areas of medicine are limited in the traditional medical curriculum, and Duke students benefit from early experience as they plan their future careers.

Recent student publications: