Activities for Medical School – Which are important?

Q (from ask.fm): I will be applying to medical school in the next few years and I was wondering how to keep track of my activities. What activities are “important”? What are med schools looking for? How far should I go back (i.e. high school, summer vacations, etc.?) How should I organize the info for AMCAS? 

The activities that are important for your medical school application are most importantly the activities that are important to you. They’re activities that can reveal something about your character and they’re activities that you’ve devoted yourself to, perhaps even by taking a leadership position. These don’t necessarily all have to be medically related. For example, I was in marching band, pep band, and a sorority. I listed all of those on my application and selected marching band as one of y most meaningful activities. Medical school admissions committees want to see that you can be devoted to something, which I sure did by becoming a leader in the band and president in the sorority.

While not all of your activities have to be medically related, it is a good idea to shadow doctors, volunteer at a hospital, or find another activity that can give you first hand exposure to the kind of work that you’ll be doing as a doctor. These experiences won’t just add to your list of activities, they can help you get stories to include in your application essays and interviews that will strengthen your argument for why you want to be a doctor. Medical school admissions committees will want to see that you’re aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

As for how far to go back, medical school admissions committees generally only care about what you did since you started undergrad.That being said, I did include some activities from high school only because I continued to be involved in them throughout college such as volunteering at a hospital, which I began early in high school and continued until the end of undergrad. General rule of thumb, if it ended before you started undergrad, don’t include it unless it’s really good.

Also, note that the work/activities section is for just that – not hobbies.

To keep track of your activities, you can write a curriculum vitae (CV, basically a longer version of a resume) and save it to your computer. Then you can periodically go back to update it (google “curriculum vitae” and you can find some good resources on how to make one). With each activity on your CV, it would be good to include a description of the activity and how you were involved in it so that you won’t forget. This can be useful for other areas as well such as to give to a letter of recommendation writer so that they can know more about you and write a stronger letter.

What kinds of activities are MD/PhD programs looking for that varies from regular med school (except research of course)? Does volunteerism, clubs, travel, etc. matter as much for MD/PhD? Also, what “counts” as a publication & what’s worth including on your resume?

Generally, MD/PhD programs require that the medical school admissions committee accepts you in addition to the MD/PhD admissions committee. This means that you need to woo the general medical school admissions as well, which will be easier if you have more activities than just research.

For any admissions committee, there are no set requirements for things such as activities. All of the admissions committees that I’ve ever experienced look at each applicant as a whole rather than checking your activities off a list to make sure you’ve fulfilled different categories of activities. If your activities can show the committee that you know what you’re getting yourself into such as through volunteering at a hospital, you can be highly devoted to something such as being highly involved in at least one organization for an extended time, and you enjoy taking care of others, it doesn’t matter what specifically are these activities.

While a solid research experience is essential for MD/PhD admissions (generally, at least an equivalent of a year of full time research is expected), simply working in a lab can be enhanced if you have something to show for it. For example, I was awarded a summer research fellowship and an undergraduate grant for doing research in undergrad. This showed that I had enough promise to get rewarded for my work.

Another way to enhance your research experience is to be published. Generally, in science and medicine, a publication is any paper in which you’re named as an author and is published in a peer-reviewed journal. Getting your name on a paper shows that you’re not only being exposed to research but you’re being productive enough to contribute to a paper. But don’t worry; a lot of people don’t have any papers published by the time they apply to medical school.

I’ve also been asked what extracurriculars I included in my application. Therefore, here they are:

(*Most meaningful)

Volunteering at a hospital*

Visiting kids in the hospital as Cinderella on my 7th anniversary as a hospital volunteer. Instagram: MDPhDToBe, June 26, 2014

Visiting kids in the hospital as Cinderella on my 7th anniversary as a hospital volunteer.
Instagram: MDPhDToBe, June 26, 2014

University of Minnesota Men’s Hockey Pep Band

Research in a genetic engineering lab

Working as a cashier at Target

Receiving an undergraduate research fellowship

Earning an undergraduate research grant

Being a leader in a sorority

Working as a receptionist in an apartment building

Research in a medicinal chemistry lab*

Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building Instagram: MDPhDToBe, August 4, 2013

Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building
Instagram: MDPhDToBe, August 4, 2013

Being a leader in the University of Minnesota Marching Band*

Minnesota Marching Band Instagram: MDPhDToBe, September 27, 2013

Minnesota Marching Band
Instagram: MDPhDToBe, September 27, 2013

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Hanna is a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and an aspiring physician scientist who aims to specialize in hepatobiliary cancers. She is also passionate about teaching, leadership, and advocacy. The energy she once used to pep up crowds as a college marching band member is now directed toward exciting and educating others about science and medicine, especially through her tweets at @MDPhDToBe and her blog at www.mdphdtobe.com.

Posted in Pre-med
3 comments on “Activities for Medical School – Which are important?
  1. In 2009, the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine at Texas Tech University started with a class of 40 first-year students. In July, 100 first-year students will start. The Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University graduated its first class of 33 students in April. The class starting in August will have about 120 students.

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