What kind of extracurricular activities do medical schools look for?

Preparing for medical school demands displaying your passion for both medicine and helping others. Like medical schools, other graduate school programs (think: business or law) require strong grades, test scores, leadership experience, and resumes. But medical school requires so much more than that. Good extracurricular activities for medical school are a particularly important part of the application process.

Through your application — personal statement, AMCAS experience list, secondaries, and interviews — you must demonstrate a genuine desire to make a difference in the lives of others. You must also show an undeniable passion for the field you are about to dedicate the next several years of your life to: medicine.

How do you do this? What do medical schools look for in an applicant?

Join or start activities that help others or have a relevance in medicine. Here are some good extracurricular activities for medical school:

1. Research

Whether researching new surgical devices, eliminating disease, or examining the structure of a virus, breakthroughs in the medical field were not an accident; rather, they were the result of committed, systematic efforts to find out how things work. They were the result of research.

Research opportunities are good extracurricular activities for medical school for a number of reasons. Firstly, they demonstrate a desire to discover and a commitment to finding answers. Secondly, medical schools are looking for candidates who are going to change the future of medicine. Doing research during undergrad or a gap year will demonstrate your potential to do so. Thirdly, doing your own research will help you learn how to interpret research, which is something you will need to be able to do in medical school and as a physician.

2. Service

When applying to medical school, you must show that you have a passion for helping others. When you think about it literally, doctors care for people when they are sick, and sometimes, at their worst. As an applicant, you must prove that you have a desire to do this and that you have the guts to handle this responsibility. Serving others is a defining characteristic of the medical practice. As an applicant, you must prove on your resume that you are ready and willing to do this, so volunteering with related organizations makes for good extracurricular activities for medical school.

When participating in service and volunteer opportunities, you must demonstrate tangible achievements. How many people did you treat or help? How much money did you raise? How much medicine did you distribute? What improved as a result of your effort?

You must also demonstrate sustained involvement over a significant period of time. As one of our former admissions officers from UCSF School of Medicine said, “A two-week service trip to Honduras isn’t fooling anyone! Two weeks is not enough time to make an impact; it’s only enough time to make observations.”

3. Work/internship experience

When medical school admissions committees admit applicants, they are choosing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into their education. It is a huge investment of time, money, and resources. They must make absolutely sure that applicants know exactly what they are getting into! They simply cannot risk admitting a student who doesn’t have the highest level of commitment to medicine or who doesn’t have the resilience and perseverance to make it through to the end.

To demonstrate your commitment to becoming a physician, you should probably spend some time learning what it’s like to be one! Good extracurricular activities for medical school, therefore, include shadowing doctors, working as a scribe, working at a clinic, or interning at a hospital, among others.

4. Teaching experience

Being a good physician requires excellent communication, listening, and leadership skills, all of which can be strengthened through teaching. As a doctor, you will essentially need to teach patients about their condition, symptoms, or treatment options in an understandable and easy-to-digest way. You can practice and prepare to do this through teaching. Whether it’s working as a teaching assistant during undergrad, taking a gap year to teach health in a foreign country, or coaching a sport, start learning how to teach.

Standing out (in a good way!) is the single most important part of the medical school application process. While the ideas above are good extracurricular activities for medical school and somewhat expected of pre-med students, you should not feel limited to only participate in these activities.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you are (1) demonstrating a genuine passion for medicine and helping others, (2) making a tangible and noticeable impact, and (3) showing sustained involvement and dedication to an activity, organization, or cause.

Yosepha Greenfield is co-founder, InGenious Prep.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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