Surgical Research

Research Opportunities, Resources and FAQ

The Royal Australian College of Surgeons (RACS) includes Scholar and Teacher as one of the core competencies of the Surgical Education and Training (SET) program, and some of the programs offer reduced training for recognised research. The new USyd MD program also includes a mandatory research component. As such SUSS strongly promotes and fosters surgical research. Our members continue to publish and present research in peer reviewed scientific surgical journals and conferences. Please visit the RACS Section of Academic Surgery page to learn more about academic surgery and to stay updated about its events.

Surgical Research Opportunities

RPA Institute of Academic Surgery

Research Resources

Below is a list of useful resources for surgical research projects. We welcome students emailing SUSS with more resources.


Equator Network Lists a number of guidelines that should be used for reporting research: PRISMA – used for systematic reviews and meta-analyses; CONSORT – used for reporting randomised trials; STROBE – used for reporting observational studies (common in surgery)
GRADE A method used by the Cochrane group for rating the quality of evidence provided by a study when doing systematic reviews.
RevMan Free, multi-platform software from the Cochrane group for meta-analyses. It has some key statistical functions, e.g. generating Forrest plots.
Ethics Forms Online system for creating and submitting ethics applications for NSW. There are two types of ethics application forms: a full National Ethics Application Form (NEAF), and a form for Low and Negligible Risk (LNR) studies.
Referencing Software EndnotePapersMendeley
USyd Library Videos A series of videos on literature searching, systematic reviews, Endnote, and more.
USyd Medical Library guide to research A comprehensive source of information on searching and interpreting medical literature, writing a thesis, writing manuscripts for submission to journals, and more.

FAQ: Doing surgical research during the medical degree

Below are a list of questions commonly asked by students about taking on surgical research during the SMP. Answers are given by senior medical students who have done concurrent research degrees, and by their supervisors. If students have any more questions please feel free to email SUSS.

Who supervises surgical research?

Surgical research is usually supervised by academic surgeons. These are surgeons who have taken on the additional responsibility of teaching or performing/supervising research. Because of this they sometimes do not have as much time as a full-time scientist/researcher to dedicate to teaching their research students, and expect a high level of independence and autonomy.

It is also possible to undertake surgery-related research under a full-time scientist/researcher, but the advantages of supervision by an academic surgeon is their appreciation that your medical degree is the priority, that you require flexibility in the timing of projects, and that they are a link into the operating room.

Do I need research experience before starting a project?

Not strictly. A PhD is a large undertaking, especially when combined with the already heavy workload of the medicine degree, so should not be underestimated. Doing a smaller project first (without committing to the extra degree) can help you gain some experience.

A PhD also requires committing to a lot of work in a single surgical sub-specialty, which can be frustrating if you subsequently lose interest in that specialty. By doing a smaller project first, you can gain insight into how much you enjoy the specialty, and how much you will enjoy the research topics. If you don’t like how things are going you have the opportunity to stop before wasting too much time.

How does the research help my chances of getting into surgery?

Research helps you in a number of ways. The selection process is outlined on the Royal Australian College of Surgeons website. There are points allocated to your CV for research publications, conference presentations, and higher degrees (this section is worth ~20% of the selection process), all of which are gained through research.

High-level research degrees like a PhD also require you to learn a topic and specialty in great detail, and thus help you to develop your knowledge in that specialty. They also give you an opportunity to connect with surgeons in that field.

The SUSS Intro to Surgery information evening, held early each year, invites an academic surgeon to talk more about the entry process, and how and why doing surgical research helps. Look out on the SUSS website and Facebook group for more information.

Where can I do surgical research at USyd?

Contact your clinical school sub-dean or your SUSS clinical school representative for more information about what’s available at your hospital.

Transferring between clinical schools is notoriously hard (though not impossible), so picking a project based mostly at your home clinical school is important, especially during Stage 3 when you’re there full-time.

You can do research outside your hospital/institution, but your primary supervisor must be affiliated with USyd. Co-supervisors from other institutions need to fill out a form to be acknowledged by the university.

What opportunities are there for surgical research during the medical degree?

The new MD program includes a research component so students can elect to do this in a surgical field (if available). The Honours program of the old MBBS degree no longer exists in the new MD.

The new Graduate Certificate of Surgical Sciences is designed to help students prepare for the entry requirements of the Surgical Education and Training (SET) program. The certificate can contain a research component, but it is still a coursework program so incurs a cost. It is started at the beginning of Stage 3, and finished at the same time as the medical degree. At this time the course is readily upgradable to a Master of Surgery.

There are also post-medicine degrees that can be done during internship/residency before applying to the specialty colleges. The Master of Philosophy (Medicine) is a smaller research degree than the PhD, so takes less time to complete. Like the PhD, the MPhil is free to local students. The Master of Surgery (Surgical Sciences) and Doctor of Clinical Surgery are coursework degrees that contain a research component. Both incur a cost.

When should I start?

Research is often a big time commitment, which takes time away from studying for the medical degree, so your marks cans sometimes suffer. Waiting to see how you perform throughout first year is important.

How do I find a supervisor & organize a project?

The university has a Research Supervisor Connect website that lists all the surgeons doing active research with the university, and some specific projects. Looking up your potential supervisor and knowing what their interest topics are and what kind of research they do (e.g. clinical studies, basic science, evidence-based medicine etc.) is important before organising to meet them and discussing projects. Many supervisors don’t respond to students who just ask for a project without demonstrating an interest in it.

Finding a good, reliable supervisor is important (especially for bigger projects like the PhD) – this can be hard sometimes. Doing a small project with them first can help you work that out. Some supervisors also require you to demonstrate that you’re committed, productive, and effective before they invest significant amounts of time in you.

How do you handle the extra workload?

Be under no illusion – doing a project like the PhD concurrently with medicine is big time commitment, so requires you to sacrifice some holidays, sleep, and social life. Being very organised and carefully planning when you perform projects/experiment is important. Getting work done early on (during Stages 1-2) is very helpful as Stage 3 gets busier. For the same reason getting lots done before internship helps. Doing intense amounts of work when you can allows you to have periods of lower productivity at other times, e.g. during medicine exams. It’s also possible to suspend your research degree candidature for exams during heavy exam periods (e.g. barriers).