MSMP Pulse December 2015: What Activities Should I Do to Prepare for Medical School?

Hello Mentees,
It’s been a while since our last MSMP Pulse. This is an informational email/newsletter we send out regularly regarding various topics in medical school preparation. You can find past Pulses on our website.  Be sure to follow us on Facebook for regular updates as well.
Your time is very valuable, which brings up the question of how you should use it. It’s a large topic relevant to premeds in all stages of training. We’ll break this topic up into a couple segments, we hope you find something relevant to yourself.  
What types of activities are helpful for medical school applicants?
Generally speaking, activities can be categorized into the following:
  • Clinical: includes any activity (not just hospital volunteering or shadowing) that puts you in direct contact with patients or allows you to observe the activities of practicing clinicians. Medical schools want to know that you have the ability and the interest to effectively work with patients and their families.
    • Examples: scribe, medical assistants, shadowing, volunteering at hospital/nursing home/clinic, patient advocates etc.
    • Don’t fall into the trap of limiting yourself to what others have done! Again, “clinical” work is loosely defined to encourage you to seek ANY experience with meaningful interactions with patients and practicing physicians.
  • Researchthis can range from being a lab assistant to presenting at conferences to being published in a journal. Regardless of whether you choose to pursue clinical/translational or bench work, having research experience shows a desire for life-long learning and commitment to furthering existing literature.
    • Keep this in mind while browsing schools you want to apply for. Some schools may value this type of experience more than others as larger research institutions may expect medical students to actively participate in research while pursuing their medical education.
  • Volunteeringthis can involve clinical and/or non-clinical volunteer work. Volunteering and other community service activities show compassion, humanitarianism, and desire to help those in need.
  • Leadershipfind a school or community organization that aligns with your values and be proactive! Some students may choose to take an officer role in an organization or even start their own clubs. Physicians are considered leaders within their healthcare team, thus medical schools will be looking for students who can function well as a leader of their group while being a good team-player.  
  • Teaching: this can involve classroom teaching or mentorship/tutoring outside of your school activities.  JABSOM in particular looks for good teachers to be a part of their Problem-Based Learning curriculum.  The ability to effectively communicate and convey information to others is a vital function of both teachers and physicians.
  • Employment: working (either clinical or nonclinical) shows a certain level of maturity and ability to balance school and employment.  Even non-clinical jobs will give you skills useful to a future physician.
  • Hobbies and other activities: Don’t forget to have fun on the way there! Medical schools look for well-rounded students and enjoy learning about students’ interests outside of medicine.
If you need some ideas, check out our list of educational opportunities and experiences to find something that matches your interests!
What are some general do’s and don’ts of getting involved in activities?
  • Do things that you have genuine interest in. Activities that you enjoy and are personally invested in are the ones that will lead to the most personal growth. These will also shine most brightly in your resume, personal statement and interview since you’ll have so much to say about them!
  • Prioritize and balance. Always remember school and family comes first. There will be time to build your activities at any time in your education, but it is very difficult to make up for poor grades/MCAT scores or lost time with your loved ones.
  • Remember that quality > quantity. While having a wide variety of activities is great, medical schools also like to see long-term commitment from students. Quality AND duration of your experience is more important than the quantity.
  • Get involved in activities for the sake of your resume alone. Medical schools are not looking for “cookie cutter” applicants, and they will see through students that approach their activities as a “check list” rather than pursuing activities that they are passionate about.
  • Limit yourself. Do NOT dismiss an activity simply because you don’t think you’d be interested OR because you think it won’t contribute to your profile as a medical school applicant. Try new things and expand your horizons!
So what do I actually do with my limited time?
The short answer is that this is up to you. If needed, ask your mentor who can provide you with more personalized advice and guidance. However, here are some general tips for those at different points in their journey to medical school:
For those starting off: 
  • Start broadly and slowlyDo not add too much onto your plate at once. At the same time, keep an open mind about what types of activities you’d like to pursue; you have time to try new things and see what you like. Get involved with student interest groups and clubs to network with peers and derive inspiration/ideas from the people around you.

After getting started and/or getting closer to your application: 

  • Think about what schools you want to apply to.  While you should not pursue activities purely for the sake of your CV, it’s good to be realistic as well. If you want to apply to Stanford, Harvard, or other highly academic institutions for example, you may consider dedicating a lot of time into research. On the other hand, JABSOM and other community programs may highly emphasize volunteer/humanitarian endeavors, teaching, and clinical experience.
  • Keep records + point of contactsAs you progress through your college experience, reflect and write about your experiences on a regular basis. This will help immensely with your medical school application, where you’ll be expected to write about your activities. Also keep in touch with any supervisors you may have worked with for reference purposes.
  • Constantly undergo self-evaluation. Are you using your time wisely? Do not continue an activity if you are no longer contributing in a meaningful way or if you do not see yourself growing from the experience. Complacency is not a desired trait in a medical student. Also be honest with yourself about areas of your application that you need to improve on and be proactive about finding activities that will address these deficiencies.

Improving your existing application; already applied to medical school: 

  • Keep up the work! Just because your AMCAS is off and being processed doesn’t mean you should stop your normal activities! Continue to look for new opportunities or further develop your existing ones.
  • Ask for feedback: If you denied acceptance from a medical school, ask for feedback from your mentors and teachers. Some schools may also have a Director of Admissions (for JABSOM, this is Dr. Ivy Nip-Asano) who you can thoroughly discuss your application with you and provide feedback on areas of improvement for the next cycle.
If you have any questions regarding this Pulse, feel free to contact us! We hope you will use this as a chance to ask your mentor some questions about what sort of activities they found productive in their own pre-medical careers.
Happy Holidays,
MSMP Board 2015-2016

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