Video 4: Med School Prep – Extracurriculars (Part 1)
In this video, we’ll discuss the types of extracurricular activities you can get involved in.
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Hi everyone! It’s Radhika here again. Hope you’re doing well. In today’s video we’re going to change a few things up. We just finished talking about medical school preparation, the undergraduate studies part. Today we’re going to start talking about extracurricular. I’m going to break this down into two videos. In this video today I’m going to talk about the types of extracurricular activities that you can get involved in and in the next video we’ll review with some advice about how to select the extracurricular activities to be involved in. Let’s get started!
Firstly, what are extracurricular activities? I get this question as an instructor quite a lot. People don’t really understand how broad this title is. Extracurricular activities are any activities that fall outside your university curriculum. Anything that is outside the curriculum that you’re participating in and giving time towards is an extracurricular activity. There are a range of these.
They include clinical experience, research experience, volunteering or community service, teaching (as a TA, tutoring, or maybe piano), any paid employment or work (part-time, full-time), and scholarships and awards. They’re noticed for your excellence in something and that activity that you’ve engaged in and has led to that scholarship being awarded to you is an extracurricular activity. The reason I’m spending time talking about extracurricular activities is because they’re super important. This is a way for you to diversify your portfolio. When medical schools see applications they see everyone has an amazing GPA, this great MCAT score, and that’s all great. But how do they really figure out the uniqueness that you as an individual offer? What sets you apart from everyone else? To do this, they look at what you’ve been involved in during the last couple of years. They take into consideration the nature and depth of the extracurricular activities that you’ve been involved in. I want you all to know it is a significant factor in your admission to medical school.
Back in the day, medical schools weren’t interested in this. They chose to incentivize people that had the best GPA’s and highest MCAT scores. They found that all these people got through medical school, went through medical school, but when it came to being licensed, practicing physicians we started to realize that they didn’t really have the people skills necessary in a field as sensitive as this. Since then they’ve learned that we need to look at students who not only have the academic ability to succeed, but also people who are amazing at communicating with patients. What is a way for them to determine who has these great interpersonal skills? It’s by looking at your extracurricular activities. They are really looking to see you’ve taken a part in activities where you’ve demonstrated leadership skills. Skills that you would not be able to hone in on or practice through school but would have been able to volunteering somewhere or teaching, or working in a hospital shadowing. I’m going to talk about these activities and what they mean. Let’s get started.
The first activity is clinical experience. Clinical experience is truly important for you. It’s tough to say you want to be a doctor when you’ve had no exposure to the way a hospital works or the way that a clinic works. Having clinical experience shows the schools you really know what this field is going to be like. You know the ins and outs. You know the day-to-day interactions that take place. You have an idea of what a hospital department looks like or a walk-in clinic, something along the lines of giving you exposure to the field. I’m not saying that if you don’t have clinical experience that you won’t get into medical school. But I do want to leave you with some information about this section specifically. 90% of the students, in a study conducted recently in North America, who were admitted to medical school had either volunteered or worked in healthcare prior to that acceptance. They did have clinical experience. Another thing to give you an idea of how important this factor really is. Back in the day medical school admission interviews used to ask if you had any clinical experience. Now they don’t ask that question. The question they ask is, “Please tell us about your clinical experience.” It’s almost assumed that you have clinical experience. Again, this is not something you have to do but something you should give a lot of thought about. It’s a very important part of your application. If you have clinical experience and the idea you want to practice medicine and go into medical school, that’s great, but the things you study in undergraduate studies are nowhere like what medical school and a clinical setting are actually like. If you really want to be able to say you want to study these things and thrive in this profession because I love it so much, the only way to make sure you love it so much is to expose yourself to it. Get into it and see if you enjoy it. I think it has takeaways for you outside the application as well.
Moving on, the other thing you also want to do is get involved in a little bit of research. The only time that you have to be involved in research in order to get into medical school is if you’re doing the MD/PHD program. That’s someone who is more interested in academics or in a research career. If you’re applying to just MD programs, there are no schools that will say you must have this kind of research component. MD/PHD programs will. You have to have some experience so they can see your cut out to do the PHD portion at the least. So why do medical schools like applicants with research experience? I’ll tell you why. It’s because as a physician you’re constantly learning. You’re constantly, on a daily basis, educating your patients and families about their conditions. To stay on top of medicine, because it’s an evolving field and that’s one of the beauties of the sciences, you also need to make sure you’re doing your research and reading articles and paper. If you’re a neurosurgeon, that you’re reading your surgical sciences and journals to stay on top of techniques that have been introduced, new treatments and diagnoses. That’s something that as a physician you’re going to have to do for the rest of your life, staying on top of current knowledge. That requires research. A lot of you may also be physicians who practice but are very involved in research as well. You want to get a feel for what research is like now to see if you want to go to a research-based medical school or even, while you’re at it, after your four years of medical school choose a specialty that is more research based. If you’re going to be a pathologist that requires more research than being a family practitioner. It doesn’t matter what kind of research you get involved in. It doesn’t have to be medical in nature. They want to see the skills you have to conduct successful research and ethical research. If you’re in your undergraduate years, there are three ways to get involved in research. The first would be to take a course for credit that is based in research. Many upper year courses, especially in biochemistry, are lab based courses. They’re a great way to expose yourself to more upper year or complicated techniques. If you’re not interested in taking a course because you’re considering how that course will affect your GPA, something else you can do is get involved in a summer research program. They are great programs. One of them is [inaudible]. You can be part of a wonderful research lab and a lot of students really decided after taking the program that they were thinking about medical school but perhaps enjoy the research so much that this is a better idea for them. This isn’t just for medical school applications. It’s for you as an individual as well because you’re really discovering yourself through these activities. The last way to get involved, if you don’t want to apply for a formal program or take a course, is to talk to some of your professors. Most have research labs. Say you would like to get involved and be exposed to research and ask if you can volunteer in their lab. There are three main pathways. It’s an important part of your application. Again, I’m not saying you have to have it unless you’re going down that MD/PHD route, but it’s an important factor. You’ll learn a lot.
The next one is volunteering/community service. This is the one most people commonly think of when they think of extracurricular activities. Volunteering is great for your application. It shows that you are compassionate, caring, empathetic, and are giving your personal time towards the community. You’re essentially being a leader. You’re demonstrating these wonderful leadership skills and physicians are community leaders at the end of the day. They want to see you’ve been involved in activities where it’s not just about you but giving towards other people in a manner where you are still managing what is going on in your personal life, your academics, your MCAT score, and other relationships, but that you’re so well balanced that you can give to your community. This is what makes a well-rounded candidate. Medical schools love seeing this. The type of volunteering that you actually get involved in doesn’t have to be medical in nature. It can be, which is great, because a lot of physicians do get involved in volunteer services after licensing exams. But it can be completely nonmedical or clinical as well. You could be working at a soup kitchen, food drive, or women’s shelter. Just show that you value your time and those in your community and the community enough to give back to them.
Next thing then is teaching. Nobody every says teaching is an extracurricular activity. But it is! Furthermore, it’s so crucial to practicing medicine. As a physician you are a teacher. You may not be directly teaching residents or interns or fourth year medical students going through rotations, but you are always teaching your patients and their families about efficient healthcare, about how to manage their condition, how to live with their symptoms. Explaining that is teaching in essence. You don’t have to become a professor once you’re done with medical school. But you will always be educating your patients and their loved ones. This idea of being able to communicate concepts that will be really difficult is a skill and a skill that gets better as its practiced. If you have the opportunity to teach, whether to tutor a student or to TA for a class, or perhaps lead a workshop in your community, that’s great! Medical schools will like it.
So work. A lot of students taking the MCAT and are looking to apply to medical school are from science backgrounds. In the sciences, as a graduate myself, we always downplay how important work is. The medical schools actually value students and applicants who have work experience, especially in customer service because a lot of medicine is having to deal and manage people from diverse backgrounds. I’m not talking about in just a sense related to your patients. But you have colleagues, co-workers. If you’re a surgeon, you have a OR team of nurses. Perhaps you have another surgeon that you’re working with. You are required not only to be able to communicate with these people, but to communicate effectively while keeping in mind the health of that patient. Work is a great opportunity that exposes you to different kinds of people. You sometimes have people you are working for like your bosses. You sometimes have people reporting to you and you’re a manager. With every interaction you have, what you learn is how to respond and cooperate effectively. Medical schools like that because it’s something you’ll have to be doing for the rest of your career. Now it’s very downplayed in the undergraduate sciences. But if you can manage a full course load plus part-time work, plus time given to extracurricular activities, and succeed academically, at the end of the day that shows you are an extremely well-rounded candidate and they really prize that. Medical school is not easy. We’ll all heard about the number of hours’ people put into being good students and it doesn’t get easier. This is a way to test if you’re really cut out for the field. Can you take this insane workload with school, employment, extracurricular activities, and research, and still come out on top? If you can, that’s a great indication that you’ll be able to succeed as a physician. Take pride in your paid employment. Really pursue it!
I want to leave you with a word of caution concerning paid employment. That’s to choose work that allows you to hone in and focus on some of the skills that may be necessary for medical school. If you’re a dish washer at a nightclub, it may not be as relatable to a job in your future as perhaps a customer service representative where you’re dealing with people all the time. You want to approach this very smartly. You’re not going to turndown well-paid employment opportunities, but at the same time you want to make sure that you’re actually learning skills that you can transfer later on in your career.
Moving on to scholarships and awards. These are things you don’t have to do anything for. They are given to you for your excellent behaviour in something. You get them because you’re exceptional and other people notice that. Medical schools like that. If you are great at music or have an award for music it shows that there must have been serious dedication throughout your childhood for you to be able to get that award. Medical schools like dedication and can see you’ve followed through with this for many years to get to the level you are. The same thing with scholarships. They distinguish excellency, some behaviour that is outstanding. It doesn’t have to be medically relevant at all. It just shows dedication, hard work, and persistence which are all skills to be a good medical student as well.
The last thing. We’ve talked about a few types of activities but that’s not to say there aren’t others. Do you excel in performing arts? What about the fine arts? Athletics and sports? Do you have a random hobby most people would not think of? Medical schools want applicants and candidates with varied interests. Like I said, everyone that applies have great scores on their MCAT and a stellar GPA. How do you really send in a few pieces of paper and try to distinguish yourself through extracurricular activities? Hobbies? This is where you’re adding dimension to your application. You’re adding character. It’s like a narrative. Through your extracurricular activities what you’re giving to this narrative is the character building portion. If you have a hobby that is not normal or heard of you make a very memorable candidate. You stick out to people who review that application and it’s only a great thing for you and your application. So participate in other activities. Do you like student governance? Model United Nations? Science president? Membership on an executive club or team? Intramural activities? These are all great things that show your leadership skills which is crucial for you in this future career. They want to see if there is anything transferable about some of your hobbies and the things you like to do towards your future career as a physician.
I’m going to leave it off here. In the next video I’m going to offer you some advice as to how to pick the activities you want to be involved in because you don’t have time to do them all. To summarize, there are many types of extracurricular activities. Really try to pick ones that interest you and will be able to equip you with the right skills to excel in medical school and as a doctor. I’ll see you next time. Bye, take care!