Did you win an art contest? Did you go an a humanitarian trip to the Honduras? Are you a ping-pong champion? Whatever you do, try and show involvement and dedication. These activities set you apart from every other applicant and allow you to have something interesting and unique on your application. So do just that–find something that you enjoy and that sounds interesting. I knew an applicant that cycled across the United States for charity and was a volunteer firefighter. The more interesting it sounds, and the more involved you are, the better. If you are the average Joe applicant, like me, at least show involvement, dedication, and that you made a difference to the program and those that you served.
I volunteered for two years as a missionary for the LDS church, and volunteered for two years as a program director for BYU’s tutoring program. These were my two main extracurricular activities, and I loved both of them and talked about them in my interviews.
Shadowing is also a requirement: it shows that you are aware of the lifestyle and work that a career in medicine entails. The more the better. I would say get 50 hours, minimum. By the time I applied, I only had 64 hours; by the time I interviewed, I had over 100. A wide variety of specialties will help too. I got most of my shadowing through connections, but I also cold called an office once to shadow an allergist. Do what you have to to get those hours. Once you are done with a shadowing session, ask if you can come back for more. Shadowing a doctor for only three hours doesn’t really give you much of a picture of what he or she does.
Keep in mind that doctors also have different styles of teaching when you are shadowing. Some encourage you to ask questions–others prefer you to be a fly on the wall. Just ask the doctor what he would like you to do. Also, remember that everything you see and hear in the office is confidential. Look professional, bring a small notepad and a pen. You know the drill.
In addition to shadowing, many schools also look at how much exposure you have to medicine in a clinical setting. You don’t have to take a humanitarian trip to Africa to get clinical exposure. I volunteered at a local hospital about 30 minutes away every Saturday for 4 hours for about 6 months. This gives you some hands-on experience that shadowing doesn’t provide.
Note: If you want to volunteer at a hospital close to campus, many other pre-meds might also want to volunteer there too, so apply early or even before the semester starts to get a volunteer position.
This year, since I was not accepted, I am working at an ophthalmology clinic. Luckily, I was able to start working a couple of days before the AMCAS application started, so I was able to include it in my application along with a letter of recommendation from the ophthalmologist. If you do have an off-year, getting some clinical exposure will definitely boost your application.
I do not know any recommended hours for clinical exposure, something like 40?
An important aspect of extracurricular activities is documentation. Later on when you apply to med school, you will want to list all of your amazing achievements and experiences, right? Well, in the application, it will ask you for all sorts of information, like average hours per week, starting and ending dates, and names and phone numbers of your supervisors. So, make sure you keep a spreadsheet or something that has that information for everything you want listed in your application.