In the next few weeks, hundreds, maybe even thousands of premed students will start a summer internship or research program. You scored an opportunity that may provide you with real-world experience or exposure in your field of interest and maybe your future career. The possible significance of this summer opportunity cannot be overstated. This experience may very well be “The One” that will help medical schools notice you. The time to stand out among other prospective applicants has arrived. Now it’s time to show medical schools who you are and what you have to offer outside of what you can do academically. The experiences that you gain over the summer are great for adding to the AMCAS work/activities section, but even more importantly; this will help you gain valuable insight into a specific field or medicine or research and help you discover more about your interest in pursuing a career in medicine. While you will not be able to tell whether or not an experience will be meaningful to you or not beforehand, at some point you will identify the meaning (or lack thereof) gained from the experience. So is this the summer experience that will be “meaningful” to you? While many internships or research opportunities may look the same when entered into AMCAS at first, it’s the additional 1325 characters that will catch the attention of the medical schools you apply to. This summer is your chance to turn your summer opportunity into a meaningful experience and here are five tips to help you make that happen:
- FIND A MENTOR. There are a number of different factors that when combined together create a meaningful experience – one being a mentor. If the program you participate in does not assign a mentor to you, it is your job to find one. A mentor can be your guide as you navigate through the internship or program you are involved in. They can unload tons of information, their own experiences and knowledge, and may give you a new outlook and new ways of thinking as you develop your career goals. Who knows – one of your most meaningful experiences may come after an encounter with a mentor who provides a supportive platform to reflect on things in a whole new way. Mentors can be very beneficial to an internship and can also heighten your knowledge about your area of interest or even an area you never were exposed to.
- STRIVE FOR PERSONAL GROWTH. What good would it be if you start an internship program and at the end of the duration come out the same person you went it? One of the purposes of participating in an internship program or summer premed activity is to grow, learn, and gain experiences. While medical schools like qualified applicants who stand out through their work experience, extracurricular activities, awards, honors, or publications, personal growth is perhaps one of the most important aspects of an experience that can help bring attention to an application. Your internship can be a powerful trigger for personal growth, a hallmark overcoming new challenges.
- ASK QUESTIONS. One of the best ways to show your interest is to ask questions. Be open and willing to learn something new by picking the brains of those around you. This will not only demonstrate your determination and motivation to perform at or above what is expected of you, it may also help you gain a clearer picture and greater insight into what you’re actually getting yourself into. The point of this summer experience and others you will participate in over the duration of your premed years is not to just stand back and watch. The purpose of these kinds of opportunities is to make every single experience and learning experience. It is quite okay to ask questions when you are presented with something that is unfamiliar to you.
- INITIATE A PROJECT. Depending on the type of program you participate in, you may have the opportunity to take on a self-initiated or independent project. Individuals who are allowed to either work independently on a project or bring their ideas to the table have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to take the word “meaningful” to a whole new level. This is your chance to create an experience that has an absolute personal element to it. The AAMC suggest that when writing about your most meaningful experiences that you “consider the transformative nature of the experience, the impact you made while engaging in the activity, and the personal growth you experience as a result of your participation.” As you start your internship or summer activity, it is important that you begin with the end in mind, being mindful of the AAMC’s suggestions as you move forward in your experience.
- KEEP A JOURNAL. If you are participating in an internship or some other activity this summer, you’re going to want to keep a journal. When it comes time to complete the work/activities section of the AMCAS and you need to reflect on the most meaningful experiences you have had up until that point, how great would it be if you could pull out your internship journal and read entries you made months or even years earlier? Keeping a journal and not keeping one could mean the difference between an AMCAS response with little to no detail about your experience and an AMCAS response with vivid details and feelings about your work. Keeping a journal does not have to be tedious but should be an account of your general thoughts and feelings during your time. It can also be used to record any outstanding experiences that you may have as well. If maintained, your journals will be helpful as you move closer to applying to medical school and are able to identify connections between your experiences. Moreover, the practice of keeping a journal will come in handy during interviews when you may be asked to talk about the meaningful experiences that you recorded in AMCAS.