Extracurricular Activities Overview
Students need to be involved in activities outside of the classroom in order to demonstrate to professional schools that they are well rounded and diverse, have had exposure to the profession, and possess the character traits that can help them be a good health care provider. Students should not pursue an activity simply because it will look good on a resume; rather, students should find activities that interest them and get as deeply involved as possible. Getting deeply involved in an activity instead of just scraping the surface shows commitment and can allow students to receive strong letters of recommendation from their supervisors.
Following is a brief description of the extracurricular activities most professional schools look for:
Service and Volunteering:
Participation in community service allows you to demonstrate the altruism medical schools look for. Volunteering in a health related field has the added benefit of giving you exposure to the profession and an opportunity to interact with patients.
Every school wants to see that students have been exposed to the profession they are pursuing. Many schools will want letters from currently practicing health care professionals and shadowing is a great way to gain exposure and network with those in the field you are pursuing. Students find shadowing opportunities through personal connections (family friends and their own physicians), hospitals, or calling physician offices directly. Most healthcare professionals are supportive of students considering a career in their own profession and will provide shadowing opportunities.
To be adequately prepared for medical school, you should have some experience interacting with patients. This often overlaps with other categories. You can gain patient exposure by: volunteering in the hospital or with hospice, working as a CNA, EMT, medical scribe, medical assistant, dental assistant, phlebotomist, volunteering at free clinics, or in many other ways.
All health care professionals are leaders at some point. Having leadership experience demonstrates that you already possess some skills in this area. To gain leadership experience, you can choose a club and get involved in their administration, participate in student government, or work as a tutor or teaching assistant.
Professional schools like to see that students have been involved in a hypothesis based research laboratory, even if they just washed dishes. The best way to get into a research lab is to approach professors whose work interests you and ask if you can volunteer in their lab. Start by looking at your department's website to identify potential research mentors and then approach them to ask about their work and openings they may have for volunteers. Be persistent. Not all researchers have the work or the funding to take on a volunteer. Research opportunities are also posted periodically on the student job board, and summer research internships are available at many universities around the country.
The University of Utah School of Medicine lists requirements for specific amounts of involvement in each of these categories as well as describing what falls under each category.