Section 1: What are my options?
There are a lot of reasons to immerse yourself in extracurricular activities during and after college. As I mentioned in my other post, you should pursue your passion but still meet the status quo for leadership experiences. Regardless of what you pick, your experiences are essential to help you get in. Did this experience help you learn more about yourself and the world in a way that will make you a better doctor? Or did you validate your reasoning for choosing to pursue medicine for the rest of your life?
To help guide your extracurricular experiences, I’ve provided examples of typical activities that will get you thinking about what you should pursue to stand out as an applicant.
- Why do it: Scribes work mostly in the ED but can include other settings, like family practice. You’ll receive a lot of exposure to the clinical setting, especially the patient-physician interaction.
- What to write about in your essay: This is a good source for stories and insight into the medical field. It’s pretty cliche to write about an action packed scene (heart attack especially) so instead, try writing about the minor details you noticed that really improved patient care.
- Why: Great way to get direct, meaningful patient care experience. It’s easy to get certified, but harder to find a job. It’s best to pursue this during college since many places nearby will offer their emergency services to pick up drunk college students on a Friday night. It can offer an alternative path if medical school doesn’t immediately workout.
- What: See “scribe” above. Working as an EMT is one of the more diverse clinical experiences. Try writing about something the reader wouldn’t expect, e.g. not about the ambulance racing with adrenaline rushing, but the long hours sitting in the ambulance waiting for a call, or the very non-emergent rides like transporting old ladies from a nursing home to a hospital.
Peace Corps/City Year
- Why: Structured programs will help you understand what service is, beyond a typical volunteer experience during college. You really gain perspective of the challenges of making a lasting change in communities.
- What: Cliche to write about how moving/humbling/life-changing/eye-opening/(insert any cliche medical school essay word here) it is to work with underprivileged kids or families. Think about what you noticed about the systems and circumstances that put children or whole communities in a particularly disenfranchised situation.
- Examples: Bench/Pipetting/Wet lab, Clinical research, Chart reviews
- Why: Lots of variety here and it’s important to get involved during college. Be willing to accept an unpaid position if you want to work with more tenured researchers. It helps if you can analyze data and write! It might be easier to get involved in basic science labs, but pick something that you are passionate about and find interesting.
- Tip: Bench research – potential to have your work be used in future studies and thus perpetually have your name on it.
- What: Writing cliche: You fell in love with the scientific process, and now you want to dedicate your life to lifelong learning. Awesome writing topic: the nuances of your research or field that tickled your fancy in medicine.
Scholarship and Achievement
- Examples: Fulbright. Rhodes. Truman. Marshall. Local merit scholarships
- Why: This is a good way to officially show that other people have already recognized your talents. Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at BWH, was a Rhodes Scholar who worked with a congressman prior to medical school.
- Tip: Apply for scholarships. Search for them! I ended up getting recognition at my college as one of 100 promising seniors among the ~10,000 students in my graduating class because it was small and not highly publicized.
- What: If you reached a point where you can write about this, you are probably smarter than I am. This recognition probably doesn’t need further explanation in your application as it already demonstrates your achievement. Consider touching on this subject if you accomplished something significant but be careful about your tone with humble bragging.
- Examples: College sports team, Thespian, Marathoner, Artist, Musician etc.
- Why: Theodor Billroth, a famous surgeon known for his procedures in abdominal surgery was equal parts surgeon and musician. These activities that require discipline will show your dedication to training for hours, be it manual dexterity or triple axel jumps.
- What: This category is all about discipline, training, and performance. Essential qualities for a surgeon. Hours of dedicated practice are impressive, whether it’s solo or (even better to write about) with a team. It may be cliche to write about how team training and performing is similar to health care team. Instead, your writing could include vibrant details of your training to demonstrate passion.
- Why: Holding a job will not only bring you monetary benefit, it will demonstrate maturity and financial independence.
- What: There are a lot of observations to be had in a job, particularly about human interactions, service, and what motivates you day to day. Although it may be a paycheck for most of the time, a position throughout college or after college can show ownership and responsibility – mature qualities necessary in a medical career.
- Why: Volunteering can show that you have dedication to the community that you are in. That being said, some volunteer positions may be more rewarding than others. Though it seems like general hospital volunteering is the most appropriate choice, students find themselves uninspired while wiping surfaces and stocking supplies. Look into organizations around you and find ones in your city that you align with. I volunteered at a nonprofit called Health Leads that was so rewarding that it eventually became a full-time job.
- What: Find an organization that you align with and feel passionate about. It will come through in your writing if you actually care about the organization you volunteered for. Try not to write about how rewarding it was, but speak to the relationships and experiences you had there, particularly astute observations you made.
Section 2: Picking the perfect combination for you
There’s no right answer or right combination. I know hearing this doesn’t help at all when you’re
anxious freaking out about picking the “right” one. It’s really all about working on two skills that will help you for the rest of your life: writing and people skills (or if you think about it, just one skill: communication). From emails to applications, you’re portraying yourself in all your communications. You can participate in all of these activities, but it’s through your writing and then people skills (interviews) that you will be judged. Without good communication skills, it would be impossible to maintain a successful long distance relationship during medical school. Trust me, I made mine work.. And now we’re engaged!
- “The mundane can often be richer than the melodramatic.” It’s refreshing to read about someone through their description of the Torrefacto coffee bean aroma nudging him out of bed every morning, rather than the adrenaline pumping CPR that many essays may already cover.
- Pick a few things that genuinely energize you. It’ll be these activities that keep you pumped after a full day of classes. Being excited about an activity, and I mean really feeling it, is what kindles passion. Your thoughts will come racing like a fire hose when it’s time to write about the experience.
Have any ideas that you want me to expand on? Comment below!