How to Use Extracurricular Activities to Your Advantage

Applicants who get into medical school participate in lots of extracurricular activities. Actually, medical schools want you to have quality over quantity when it comes to your after school activities.

The best way to accomplish this is to take on leadership roles in your clinical exposure, college jobs, volunteering, and medical research.

Medical schools will really like you if you stick with the same activities but each year you become more and more involved.

Plus, when completing your AMCAS application you will be asked to chronicle how you spent your time outside of the classroom since your high school graduation.

You must use your better judgment in which types of items you mention on your application. If something is not appropriate for medical school entry or to be discussed at a medical school interview do not include it.

Include your most significant and meaningful activities because you can describe 20 distinct areas of involvement on your medical school application.

For each extracurricular you will include:

  • length of involvement
  • supervisor
  • brief description

I spoke with admissions at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and they stated you want to have something of value for all 20 work/activities otherwise this is like going to an interview and only speaking for half of the time allotted.

This is not good.

You want to present yourself as a well-rounded student who was involved in many extracurricular activities.

Premed and Academic Societies

If you are still in college the best thing you can do for yourself is to become involved with your pre med society. They have resources, mentors, study groups, and networking opportunities that you will want to take advantage of.

As a doctor you will have to deal with many demands on your time, varying priorities, and working with others to achieve a common goal and participating in extracurricular activities is an excellent way to get this experience.

If you are passionate about an organization which is not the premed society, then by all means become fully involved with that group. Pursue the activities you are most excited about.

On the other-hand, do not be a stranger to the pre med society, at a minimal become a general member and attend their meetings.

Premedical groups sponsor many activities that are vital to surviving college and coming out unscathed. My premed group holds an annual fall premed workshop at the beginning of the year in which we invite medical students, medical admissions officers, premed advisors and give an overview of what you should be accomplishing during the academic year.

This was instrumental because it allowed for students to see the big picture before getting bogged down in the demands of college.

Clinical Exposure

You apply to medical school because you want to become a doctor and medical schools expect that you have an idea of what it means to be a physician. They will want to know if you have fully considered all aspects of life as a physician and the best way to show this is through clinical exposure. Clinical exposure can be:
  • shadowing
  • volunteering
  • being a health care provider

The key point is to show you are passionate about medicine and know what you're getting into. Training a doctor is a big investment so medical schools want to be assured that you are up to the challenge.

As for me, I wanted more hands on experience so I shied away from the typical hospital volunteering role; I worked as a sports medicine aide as one of my university jobs during my undergraduate years for my clinical exposure.

While working as a sports medicine aide, I had the opportunity to work with the team doctors learning how to diagnose common illnesses, sitting in on routine physicals, and even observing a few surgeries.

This clinical experience exposed me to doctors during office hours where they are treating patients, the operating room, and specific to sports medicine at sporting events in case an injury should happen.

Clinical exposure does not have to be limited to working with physicians you just need to have an overall sense of what it means to help sick people.

Working in an AIDS clinic, a medical mission, or volunteering at a nursing home are all good options to gain clinical exposure.

In some cases choosing extracurricular activities outside of the hospital may be better for learning purposes. These institutions are less likely to have an oversupply of medical personnel meaning you can make a lot more clinical contributions.

Research Experience

You do not need research to get into medical school. Although it can really improve your chances of admission to medical school. My opinion is to give research a try for at least one semester because you never know what can come from the experience.

On the contrary, if you are applying to a top tier medical school or planning to pursue the MD-PhD then research will be required.

Finding a research opportunity is not as difficult as you and your classmates may think. All those science professors who lecture you also head research laboratories when not teaching you the basic sciences. One suggestion is to simply speak with your professor to learn about their research and gain some laboratory experience.

To be honest, many institutions are in need of research assistants and if you open your eyes you will see advertisements posted in classrooms, bulletin boards, cafeterias, etc. Be proactive and find the research opportunities.

Do not be concerned about the specific research topic, you just want to be involved and learn from this extracurricular activity. Also, many laboratory personnel understand it may be your first time conducting research and they will be more than willing to guide you along.

Research can take a number of forms and doesn't have to be in one of the "hard" sciences.

For instance you can do research with the psychology department on human behavior; political science department on a voting trend, sociology department on a societal phenomenon. What matters is that your brain is engaging the scientific process and you are analyzing data and drawing conclusions.

There are the very lucky few who are able to have their research published. This is an added bonus that certainly adds distinction to your application and if you are even luckier to been mentioned in the author section, then well done and great job. This is not the norm though and medical schools understand this, so just become engaged in research and learn as much as possible from this extracurricular activity. Also, talking about your research is fair game on a medical school interview.

Hobbies

If you have hobbies or special interests outside of medicine be sure to stay involved with these extracurricular activities. As I mentioned medical schools are looking for well-rounded individuals who can excel in the field of medicine, but also have interests outside of their area of vocation.

Hobbies generally serve as a source of stress relief and are fun to engage in so stay true to them even while in undergrad and medical school.

They will serve as a source of grounding from the rigors of studying. I personally enjoy sports a lot and used weightlifting as a means of escape from academics, it is something which gives me pleasure so I continued it throughout my academic career.

If you have a unique or interesting extracurricular activities, share it on your medical school application. It just might be this one activity which gives you the competitive edge at an interview.