The number of qualified students applying to medical school each year far exceeds the number of available seats. On top of that, among the pool of applicants are a great number who are the nation’s best and brightest students. So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that you’ll need far more than just grades and test scores to earn a coveted spot at one of the nation’s medical schools.In fact, one study conducted by the AAMC found that approximately eight percent of applicants with GPAs ranging from 3.80 to 4.00 and MCAT total scores ranging from 39 to 45 were rejected by all of the medical schools to which they applied. On the contrary, the same study revealed that about 18 percent of applicants with GPAs ranging from 3.20 to 3.39 and MCAT scores ranging from 24 to 26 were accepted by at least one school. In this super-competitive medical school admissions arena, you’ll need to stand out from the crowd and your extracurricular activities could give you the competitive edge that means the difference between getting in or not.Extracurricular activities give medical schools a chance to see what you’ve done during your pre-med years outside lecture halls and other than studying for the MCAT. More than ever before, medical school admissions committees are putting more emphasis on recruiting students who, beyond having a strong academic background, are balanced, well-rounded students who will be a good fit for their school.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), a well-rounded sampling of extracurricular activities or work experience, both related and unrelated to medicine, will help broaden an applicant’s knowledge and development. When it comes time to complete your AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application, you have 15 spaces to enter your work/activities that you would like to highlight to medical schools. Aside from your potential to succeed academically, this is your chance to give medical schools up to 15 more reasons as to why they should invite you for an interview and ultimately offer you acceptance to their medical school.So now that we’ve told you what you probably already knew about the importance of extracurricular activities, the next thing you should know is that not all extracurricular activities are equal.

Here are 5 extracurricular activities that every medical school admission committee wants to see on your application:

Volunteering/Community Service (Medical):

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Photo credit: Flickr by Neon Tommy

The extracurricular activity most valued by medical schools is medical-related community services. And we’re not just saying this. A reported published by the AAMC reported that after letter of recommendation, an applicants participation in medical-related community service was considered the next most important in deciding on not only if they would invite them to an interview but also if acceptance was offered. So, why is having this activity under your belt so important? For starters, altruism, the unselfish concern for the welfare of others, is something that all physicians pledge to when they take the Hippocratic Oath, so wouldn’t it be crazy for medical schools not to take this into account?And while your involvement in a medical-related community service activity can demonstrate the commitment and dedication valued in medical students and future physicians, it is important that your experience be meaningful.  So your job is to make it count. You shouldn’t be worried about whether or not you’ll have enough extracurricular activities to impress admission committees, you should be more concerned with those which will foster meaningful experiences and outcomes. Not only will having meaningful experiences give you more depth as an applicant, it may even give you something to write about for your personal statement and give you stories to tell during your interview.
There’s no way to tell beforehand as to whether or not the activity you choose will be meaningful or not so it is important to give yourself enough time during your pre-med years to plan and manage your time accordingly. The first one or two activities you become involved in may not be the ones that you gain meaning from and it may very well be the next one that does. However, you don’t want to be left at the end of your pre-med years with a long list of extracurricular activities that have meant nothing to you.
There’s no way to tell beforehand as to whether or not the activity you choose will be meaningful or not so it is important to give yourself enough time during your pre-med years to plan and manage your time accordingly. In order to be successful in finding an extracurricular activity that has potential to become a meaningful experience, start by finding an activity you genuinely enjoy. Then try to find an activity that brings in the medical component. So, let’s say you enjoy sports, you play on your school’s team or you just love watching sports on TV – consider volunteering with the medical team at a sports medicine clinic in your area or with one of your school’s athletic teams. Or, let’s say you like working with kids and you’re good in math, check out the in-patient pediatric department at your local hospital, you’ll be sure to find an opportunity to volunteer as an academic tutor for the hospital’s long-term patients. You get the point right? Put some thought into which activities you will ultimately commit your time to because this time is precious and can mean the difference in finding an experience that is just an experience and finding one that brings meaning to your pre-med life. To find a medical-related volunteer/community service project, visit www.healthcarevolunteer.com to find an opportunity that is right for you. Examples of Volunteering/Community Service (Medical) Extracurricular Activities:

  • Volunteering at a hospital or clinic to gain broad exposure to working within a health care setting
  • Volunteering as a summer camp counselor working with children who are disabled
  • Volunteering on an on-going basis with a blood bank to assist in various activities of the operation
  • Volunteering as a member of a medical corps to help restore crisis-affected communities
  • Volunteering as an emergency medical technician

Medical/Clinical Work Experience:

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Photo credit: Flickr by phalinn

Why not take medicine for a test drive before committing the rest of your life to it? Aside from learning about what you like (and don’t like) about medicine, gaining work experience in a medical/clinical setting shows medical school admission committees that you’ve seen what it’s like to be a doctor, you’ve worked around them, you’ve gained a sense of what it is they do, and yes, your sure that this is what you want to do with your life. It will give you the opportunity to get a first-hand look at medicine and get a peek at what you’re options are. Having medical/clinical work experience is more for you than it is for medical schools, they want to know that you know what lies ahead along the road to becoming a doctor and the field of medicine overall.As a pre-med, there are tons of opportunities to engage in a medical/clinical experience and this also includes shadowing a physician, which will allow students to gain exposure to patients in a medical setting.  By gaining a realistic view of the health profession through clinical experiences, you secure critical insight into why you are choosing a career in medicine. As an individual who plans to spend the rest of your life working in a clinical setting, there is no excuse for not having any experiences. It is absolutely necessary that you spend a significant amount of time dedicated to gaining experience and not get caught up with dibbling and dabbling for short periods of time in many areas. While you should shoot for at least 200 hours of experience, there are students who may spend up to 500 hours or more during a single experience. But try not to get caught with the number of hours you are putting in and focus more on seeing what you can draw from your experiences, to leave you with enough exposure to explain with great confidence why medicine is for you!

Community Service (Non-Medical):

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Photo credit: Flickr by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

With non-medical community service activities comes an experience that will truly demonstrate your commitment and dedication to something that will do nothing other than foster your selfless tendencies. Different from being involved in a medical-related community service activity, like volunteering at a hospital or during a community health fair, donating your time to something that has absolutely nothing to do with you says a lot – so, go ahead, rack up those hours, it will say a lot about your commitment to community and public service.Chances are, if you take a look at your top school’s web site, you’ll find that they are active and involved with community oriented service and projects. And in some cases, students are required to complete a certain number of hours of community service prior to graduation. According to an article published in The Clinical Teacher, the World Health Organization (WHO) expects all medical schools to ‘direct their education, research and service activities towards addressing the priority health concerns of the community, region and/or nation that they have a mandate to serve.’ Examples of ‘Community Service Non-Medical’ Extracurricular Activities:

  • Volunteering with an organization like Habitat for Humanity to help build homes for individuals and families in need
  • Volunteering with an organization like Feeding America to support food donation efforts and a mission to end hunger
  • Volunteering as a manager or coach for a little league in your community
  • Volunteering through an organization like AmeriCorps to participate in work ranging from public education to environmental clean-up
  • Volunteering on a on-going basis to organize a coat, book, toy drive to support individuals in-need within your community

Leadership Experience:

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Photo credit: Flickr by mriggen

If you can use at least one of your 15 slots for work/activities to tell school’s about a leadership role you held during your pre-med years, you’ll be sure to gain a few extra points compared to an applicant who can’t say the same. While it will not guaranteed your acceptance, having a leadership role on your resume will help build your case for why you’re the one to pick.Many medical school look favorably upon applicants who have held leadership roles and some actually require applicants to have at least one leadership experience to apply. And it helps a lot if the school’s you are applying to are particularly big on leadership. For example, on the Website for the Geisel School of Medicine, under the page that outlines what the school stands for they have an entire section on ‘Creating Leaders and Leadership’ and explain that they are ‘committed to creating a new type of physician leaders who exercise the kind of superb leadership required to tackle our most vexing challenges in health care.’ So, the point is, if you’re applying to a school that is big on leadership, which is pretty much all medical schools, make sure that you’re able to show why you’ll be a perfect fit for their school. Examples of ‘Leadership Experience’ Extracurricular Activities:

  • Holding an office in student government, club, or organization
  • Mentoring at-risk youth though a program like Big Brothers, Big Sisters
  • Becoming the team captain for a sport played during college
  • Organizing any type of event on campus or in your community

Experience with Underserved Populations:

By participating in a program working with underserved populations you will now have the opportunity to talk first-hand about your experience, what you gained from it, and why you are passionate about committing your life in medicine to serving individuals in these areas.

Having experience with underserved population is something that medical schools will definitely want to see if you are applying to a program that is designed to increase the supply of physicians in underserved areas. With growing concerns about the reality that the U.S. will face a widespread doctor shortage and the treat of an impending health care crash due to this shortage, more and more schools have begun to implement programs to address the need for attracting students who are compassionate and dedicated to addressing the health care needs of underserved populations. By participating in a program working with underserved populations you will now have the opportunity to talk first-hand about your experience, what you gained from it, and why you are passionate about committing your life in medicine to serving individuals in these areas.Working with underserved populations, medical-related or not, gives students the opportunity to become exposed to environments of cultural diversity. According to Health Reform.gov, the Obama Administration believes that strengthening and growing the country’s primary-care workforce is critical to reforming the nation’s health care system and announced that with the passage of the Affordable Care Act it plans to make available $250 million in new funding to expand the primary workforce to invest in a new generation of primary caregivers through increased resources for training, new incentives to physicians for providing primary care to patients, and support for caregivers who choose to enter primary care in underserved areas. And medical schools planning to participate in the Obama Administrations plan for creating jobs and increasing the number of primary care providers are looking to attract students who genuinely share the same desire to become a part of this new primary care workforce.For any of the above-mentioned examples of extracurricular activities, students can find opportunities within these categories that are particularly aimed at addressing the needs of individuals in underserved populations.