Research is highly valued by health professions programs, but it may not actually be required. Why is it valued? Primarily because they see it as an indication of your intellectual curiosity. Depending on the research you are doing, it can also help you develop your analytical skills and demonstrate core competencies like teamwork, resilience, and responsibility.
What kinds of research do they want to see? Bench science (e.g. biology, chemistry) research is a logical option, as are clinical and translational research. However, remember that intellectual curiosity is a key part of this, so feel free to explore research in other areas if the social sciences and humanities interest you more.
How much research is enough? It depends on your plans.
If you want to do research once you become a professional, then you should do a significant amount of research as an undergraduate.
If you are not interested in doing research, then it might be time to find an activity you value more (try talking about this with advisors first). There are health professions programs and schools that put less emphasis on research.
Structured programs that combine a professional degree with a PhD may require as many as 3-4 years of undergraduate research in your field.
What’s better, volunteer research or paid research? Any research situation that allows you to participate substantively will add value to your preparation. Think about it this way: helping collect data for a small, obscure lab is going to help you more than washing dishes in the most prestigious lab on campus.
How do I find research opportunities related to health, illness and medicine?
Talk to the advisor for your major (or minor) to find out about research possibilities within that department or program.
Talk to instructors whose courses you find fascinating; ask them whether they can point you towards some research in that area of interest.
UM Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (note that projects in the bench sciences tend to fill up very early, but many good projects in other fields that can still help you might remain unfilled, so be flexible!)
Explore the departmental web pages of the UM Hospital (for example, look at Neurology), the U-M School of Public Health, and other graduate programs on campus. The faculty listings frequently describe research interests.
How should I ask for a chance to do research?
If you are responding to a job posting, read the description of the position carefully and make sure you understand it well before applying.
Whether volunteering or applying for a paid position, get organized ahead of time
Write a cover letter that speaks directly to the job.
Contact potential references before you start your search.
Create a research-specific resume (including things like pertinent courses, prior work that demonstrates the skill sets needed, etc.).
Before interviewing, have a good understanding of the hours you are actually available..
Think through logistical issues like transportation before you interview.