The Hidden Requirement
Medical school requirements do not specifically include medical extracurricular activities. (Let me define the term so you won’t get confused. When I mention “medical extracurricular activities,” I mean extracurricular activities to get into medical school, not the extracurricular activities you do while in medical school.) But I’m telling you now that they are required.
Why? Because you will invariably face the ultimate question: Why do you want to become a doctor? You cannot effectively answer that question without some kind of exposure to the medical field.
What Are Medical Extracurricular Activities?
So what exactly is considered a medical activity? Well, it is anything with exposure to doctors or patients. It is up to you to decide exactly what it is. Whatever it is, make it counts because you will definitely talk about it during your medical school interviews. You want to be able to tell an in-depth story about your experiences and how it reinforced your decision to apply. The more you like what you did, the more you can talk about it during the interview. Do interesting things and be interesting!
Medical extracurricular activities were the requirements I enjoyed most about the application process. One of my extracurricular activities was volunteering in a long-term care center in a nearby hospital. I really enjoyed being around people and getting to know them better.
Remember, it is not about quantity but about quality. Sure, it may be impressive to fill your application with your activities and achievements, but if you jump around all the time, admissions could question your ability to commit. And medical school is a big commitment. In addition, you’ll be missing out on forming friendships and really getting to know the people you are serving to and serving with.
The medical school extracurricular activities I can think of are:
- mission trips
I list volunteering first because it is the easiest to get. Almost anyone can do it. And all applicants should volunteer. What better way is there to prove your selflessness and your altruism than by giving back to the community?
One of the first places for you to volunteer should be a near-by hospital. Just call the hospital and ask how you can volunteer. There is usually an application to fill out, a short interview, and an orientation to attend.
I chose to volunteer in a hospital 5 minutes from my house. It is an easy decision because it is close, and I can find patients and doctors there. I ended up volunteering with the recreational department. Every week, for four or more hours, I went to the long-term care unit of the hospital and lead the morning exercises, talked about current events, and hosted bingo games. I got to know many of the patients. And surprisingly, most of them recognized me even though I only see them once a week.
Personally, I made friends through my service, which I am still in contact with today. Through volunteering, I got my stellar letter of recommendation, made the hospital newspaper, and secured a spot in the hospital if I choose to rotate there.
Even if you are busy, you can still volunteer. Since I had an inflexible schedule with little free time, I choose to volunteer at a near-by hospital.
Some people choose to become EMTs. This requires more time and commitment than volunteering at the hospital. You will need to take classes before you can become an EMT. You may have to pay for the cost of the classes from your own pockets. But for most of the time, the demand for EMT is high. And you’ll be learning skills which would be helpful and practical. Who knows, maybe you can also get paid for it.
Volunteering is the best medical extracurricular activity, so try that first.
I list shadowing second because it is relatively easy to do. Not only is it helpful for the application process, but it is helpful for yourself. You will get to see first-hand what a doctor does and what his or her day is like. You can choose to shadow your current doctor, family-friend doctor, or even a random physician in the phone book. If you choose the latter option, just call them, introduce yourself, and ask to shadow.
Some medical schools require letters of recommendations from a doctor. Visit the letters of recommendation section to learn more.
During the shadowing process, you do not want to make a nuisance of yourself. Do not slow the doctor down. Think of yourself as a fly on the wall observing. And if you have questions (which you should), question the doctor when he or she is not busy with a patient.
Some doctors only want you shadowing them for a day or two. Other doctors are fine with you shadowing for a longer period of time. If you can, try to shadow a few times (roughly 4 to 5 times) so you get to know the doctor more, and also, to get a better feel for what a normal day would be like. In addition, if the doctor is writing your letter of recommendation, he or she will have more to write about.
Lastly, do not forget to thank the doctor. Definitely thank the doctor in person. Sending an e-mail is ok. But the best would be a written thank you note. You’ll certainly stand out from everyone else since so few people take the time to write a thank you note.
Mission trip is like volunteering, but at a place far from home. It could take place in another city, state, or even country. If you can have the time, money, and desire, you should definitely go on mission trips. But if you cannot do so before applying to medical schools, you will still have time during the summer break after first year of medical school. Visit the first year summer vacation section to find out more about my own personal experience and recommendation.
I list this last because it is one of the hardest medical extracurricular activities to get. As of 2011, the US is in a recession and people are not hiring if they do not have to. Doctors are trying to cut down on expenses, especially since payments from insurance companies and the government are low. Hospitals are restructuring to prevent declaring bankruptcy.
Even so, there are a few people in my class who were previously nurses. In the first two years, they are at an advantage in terms of clinical medical knowledge. But you don’t have to be a nurse. You can even get a job in the doctor’s office as a receptionist, like one of my friends in class. You just have to demonstrate how you interacted with patients and how you were inspired by the doctor’s work.
If you can get this as a medical extracurricular activity, you are essentially killing two birds with one stone: you get money and you get stories to tell on the interviews.
Any other activities not listed above are considered non-medical extracurricular activities. That includes clubs and research. Some people may disagree with me, especially about research, but they are not mandatory because they do not interact with patients or doctors.
Now, there are exceptions. If your research was test trials of a new drug, and you worked with patients and doctors during the clinical trials, then that would fit as a medical activity. But for the most part, especially applicants straight from undergraduate school, clubs and research are not medical extracurricular activities.
With that being said, if you show dedication and commitment to your non-medical extracurricular activities, it will definitely increase your chances for acceptance into medical school.
Which One Is Best for You?
The above medical extracurriculars are just things I can think of. So which of the medical school extracurricular activities listed above should you do? There is not a specific answer. If you love sports and can somehow fit that into an interaction with patients, then by all means, do it! The most importantly thing is to do what you love and enjoy yourself! If you do so, you will find the medical extracurricular activities to be the best part of the application process.
This article is part of the Get into Medical School series. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about getting accepted into medical school.