When applying to medical school, I think there are a few essential application details that every medical student should have. Besides the obvious: grades, MCAT score and personal statement, this post is about the extracurriculars and activities you can be involved in during undergrad. By no means do the following guarantee your acceptance into medical school but, most students will have these activities on their applications. Having these will put you on the same playing field as other competitive applicants and anything extra, is just icing on the cake.
One of the earliest endeavors a pre-medical student should work on is: laboratory research. Laboratory research, when started early, has a higher probability of yielding scientific papers. You can get lucky in many ways and easily find yourself on a paper with minimal work, but for the rest of us, the more hours you put in, the better chances you have at becoming an author. Forming a personal relationship with your Principal Investigator can also turn into a letter of recommendation. Most medical schools want, at least, 3 letters of recommendation(2 from science professors and 1 from a non-science professor). But, like I always say “The more the merrier!” If you enroll in your PI’s class, assuming he/she is also a professor, you will then have a very detailed/personal letter of recommendation from a science professor. Know the project(s) you are working on very well before you interview, “Tell me about your research” is a commonly asked question that you don’t want to miss. Summer research programs are great ways to earn money and get research experience without needing much experience to begin with. If you are matched with someone at your school, you can continue the project after the summer ends and you may be that much closer to getting on a paper!
Next, volunteering and shadowing in hospitals directly shows your interest in medicine. I don’t believe it matters what specialty you shadow, try to find something that interests you and/or you want to learn more about. When you volunteer, be sure to interact with patients. Talking to patients and forming relationships is something you can talk about on your application and in your interviews. Being a volunteer in most hospitals is difficult because you are not qualified to perform any procedures. The most I could do is talk to patients, you never know who is sitting in the bed in front of you until you say “Hello.”
Also, joining clubs during your undergraduate career is helpful in countless ways. Not only can clubs turn into vital leadership opportunities but they are a good way to get unique letters of recommendation and meet new people. Clubs and organizations on campus can show your diversity and commitment to community service because most organizations have ways of giving back. After sometime in a club, running for a leadership position looks great on applications and you can find out more about how the club works and contribute to its impact. Club advisors could also serve as letters of recommendation.
Lastly, work experience can help anyone, not just pre-meds. Don’t overstretch yourself though. If you have free time, a job can yield another letter of recommendation, give you leadership/team experience and put cash in your pocket for all those secondaries you will be writing.
Always remember, above all else, when writing about your experience with each of these activities do not focus on what you did with your time, but what did you learn from the club/job/lab/hospital that affected your decision to enter medical school.