There are SO MANY Extracurricular Activities for Med School. Which ones should you even start with??
Extracurriculars tell med school committees who you are. They diversify your application and enable you to present as a well-rounded candidate.
More than that, picking the best extracurricular activities for medical school can shape your values and lead to significant personal growth and fulfillment over time.
In general, medical schools care most about activities that have led to personal growth, often that you’ve decided to commit to for a long period of time.
Remember quality over quantity.
It doesn’t matter that you are part of every premed club on campus if you haven’t done anything in them. That’s not to say you shouldn’t join these orgs as they can be an excellent source of camaraderie and discovering new pre med extracurriculars.
Rather, this is just to say that you should be weary of overextending yourself and instead focus on finding organizations that you can do something meaningful in.
To simplify, I’m going to break it down into 3 categories:
- Clinical extracurricular activities
- Research and Lab Experience
- Community Service
Clinical Experiences and Clinical Extracurricular Activities
These show that you understand what it means to be a physician and are familiar with the field. Shadowing a doctor is your best bet towards gaining this familiarity and seeing if the job is the right fit.
These opportunities can be hard to come by – I recommend jumping on any opportunity you find so long as it does not interfere with academic performance.
How To Find Clinical Extracurricular Activities
You can explore personal connections, your school may offer a program, or there are also many that can be found online.
A quick google search can yield many results for programs, particularly in the summer, that provide in-depth clinical observations.
Many of these may also be geared towards low-income, under-represented communities and can offer to cover costs. I highly recommend beginning to look into these early in your college career, although some are also applicable for high-schoolers.
Explore Medical Volunteering when looking for Clinical Extracurricular Activities for Medical School
Medical volunteering is another great way to gain insight into the field.
Volunteering in the emergency department is a common selection and a good foot in the door, however, in my experience it’s usually not impactful enough to continue long-term. Instead, maybe search for something a little more unique. Nonprofit clinics sometimes offer more responsibilities and thus a better experience.
Sometimes patient care volunteers, especially in hospices, allow you to become an integral part of the medical team as you can have the opportunity to engage with patients who may be suffering from social isolation – visiting them can have a huge impact on their quality of life.
That’s exactly what I did to gain experience and got my foot in the door.
Point is, despite having no technical skills there are still a multitude of ways to engage in meaningful medical volunteering that goes beyond changing bed sheets for 4 hours straight.
Remember the position’s title or the number of hours you spend don’t matter. Instead focus on what you learn and take away from the experience in order to give yourself a sincere experience to write in your application.
Medical Paid Employment: EMTS, Scribes, ED Techs, Medical Assistance, and MORE
Although according to the AAMC, less than half of medical matriculants have it, medical paid employment can be an outstanding way of gaining experience and exposure to the field.
Some of the jobs for your pre-med extracurriculars are EMTs, scribes, ED techs, medical assistants, patient care techs, etc. I won’t go into these in detail right now but know that it is very feasible to work these part time while still in college.
However, they do take a significant amount of time and for that reason it is usually better to wait until the latter end of college.
These “extracurricular activities” can also be great ways to spend a gap year and build up money.
Research Jobs, Internships, and Lab Based Extracurricular Activities
Working as a research assistant has practically become required for entrance into medical school. It demonstrates ability to work well in a team-based setting towards long-term goals. It can be difficult to break in – for many it’s best to begin applying 2nd and beginning of 3rd year as a sophomore or junior.
You will have a better understanding of basic lab skills from bio and chem lab classes. These skills are marketable and coupled with a strong academic record, will make you a solid candidate.
How To Reach Out to Professors for Lab Experience
I recommend targeting around 3 professors whose work you are genuinely interested in – send out well worded introduction emails and follow up by visiting office hours with a resume (even if they don’t reply to your email). Make sure to have a basic grasp on their field of study by reviewing relevant literature before meeting them.
If you struggle with getting to know your professor, we got the best guide on How To Talk To Your Professors, even if you’re shy!
Another avenue to look out for is summer research programs. Many medical schools have both clinical observation as well as research internships for undergraduates, and these can all be discovered online.
Again, if you are from an underserved background many of these programs will cover the cost of attending and more. Look into these early in your college career, as completing one will give you a huge edge in breaking into labs at your university.
Community Service and Volunteer Based Extracurricular Activities
When picking extracurricular activities for medical school, the best type of experience is usually a personal one. For that reason, community service experience can offer your med school admins insight into the projects you genuinely care about.
It can be medically related but by no means has to be – healing and strengthening a community requires an interdisciplinary approach. Educational outreach, distributing supplies to the homeless, environmental protection, and others all come to mind.
Find programs with goals you want to stick with for an extended period of time. As with any extracurricular, aim to increase your responsibilities beyond the usual.
By looking to improve and contribute to your org or program, the personal growth and the gains from your volunteer extracurricular activities will reflect well in your medical school application.
Don’t Overextend Yourself when doing your Extracurricular Activities for Medical School
In order to completely cover your bases, you need to have meaningful experiences in all 3 of these categories. However, it’s still important to solidify your academics before committing to time-intensive med school extracurriculars.
Be wary of committing to too many activities, especially at the start of college which can be much better used to solidify studying habits.
GPA and MCAT Scores Still Matter
GPA and MCAT will still be the most important aspect of your app, no matter what you have done for your extracurricular activities.
For medical school, minimum GPA and MCAT scores are still used to screen out applicants. If you don’t meet their threshold, they’ll never get to read about your experiences.
Essentially in 2021, stats are still king.
I personally did not start on extracurriculars until spring quarter of my first year as a freshman. but by no means do I feel behind in my medical pursuits because of it. There is no rush to jump into things – the medical path is a marathon not a sprint.
If I had to summarize pre med extracurriculars in a sentence, it would be this. Do stuff you like that leads you to the conclusion of why you want to be a doctor. Although you may engage in similar extracurriculars as other applicants, what you take away from those experiences will be uniquely your own.
– Byron R.
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