Context: Medical student involvement in research is an important metric used by residency programs across most specialties to better assess the candidates’ commitment to advancing medicine as well as their specialty of interest. One strategy is presentation of research work at national conferences in the specialty of interest; another is simply attending these events for networking purposes with program directors. However, attending these conferences carries cost.
Objectives: To investigate the cost incurred by medical students to attend the premier annual scientific meeting of each major medical specialty in 2020, during the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and to evaluate whether “research intensive” specialties carried greater conference registration costs.
Methods: Potential medical specialties to which students can apply upon graduation were identified in the National Residency Match Program (NRMP). “Research intensive” specialties were defined as those with a mean number of abstracts, presentations, or publications ≥10 per matched applicant in the 2020 NRMP. The premier conference for each specialty was determined by membership in the American Medical Association House of Delegates in the NRMP. The cost to be a member of each conference’s parent organization and attend the annual meeting were determined by internet search. Subgroup analysis was conducted to compare cost between research intensive and non research intensive specialties.
Results: The registration cost of 19 virtual conferences held in 2020 were analyzed in this study. The average cost to attend as a medical student member of the hosting organization for all conferences was $49.82 (range, $0–$331; SD±$92.18), while the average cost to attend as a nonmember across all conferences was $188.16 (range, $0–$595; SD±$176.35; p<0.001). Seven of 19 (36.8%) meetings had free registration for medical students who are members of the hosting organization. The premier meetings affiliated with the seven research intensive specialties had a significantly higher mean cost for medical students who were members of the parent organization than the meetings of the other specialties ($125.60 vs. $49.20; p=0.031). There was no significant difference in mean registration cost between research intensive and non research intensive specialty conference registration for nonmember medical students (p=0.85). Vascular surgery, radiation oncology, and emergency medicine were the three specialties with the most expensive medical student member registration fees overall ($331, $200, and $195, respectively).
Conclusions: Medical student attendance and presentation at national scientific meetings was found to be significantly more costly for research intensive specialties, although all meetings were held in an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, this reflects an increased financial burden to an already indebted medical student population and compounds the stresses brought on by the pandemic. More national medical societies might consider free meeting registration to reflect support for medical students and encourage their continued participation in research to advance their specialty of interest.