Excelling at both extracurricular activities and exams in medical school is critical to deciding what residency you want to pursue and ultimately getting into that residency. Most medical school students are well-versed in successfully juggling multiple endeavors and demanding schedules. However, the juggling act in medical school is more difficult because more material is covered more rapidly, exams are more frequent, and expectations in extracurriculars are higher. Realistically, you will only have time to seriously commit to 3-4 extracurriculars in the preclinical years of medical school. Thus, you must carefully select what extracurriculars to pursue based on the residency for which you are aiming.
1 | Productive Research
Doing research in medical school is arguably the most beneficial extracurricular activity, especially if you are interested in a competitive specialty and/or training at a top-ranked residency program. Numerous benefits result from doing research in medical school. These include forging relationships with mentors in your field(s) of interest, garnering publications, and actively addressing current issues in medicine. Research mentors can be instrumental in not only writing strong letters of recommendation for residency applications but also calling residency directors to help get your foot in the door and/or push you across the finish line to an acceptance. Publications (e.g., conference abstracts and articles in peer-reviewed journals) are essential for getting into top residency programs. Finally, making meaningful contributions to your field(s) of interest through research can lend extra depth to your personal statement and be highlighted during residency interviews.
Realistically, you will only have time to meaningfully contribute to research during the pre-clinical years of medical school. In particular, the summer between your first and second year is a solid window to do full-time research. Thus, it is highly recommended to prioritize identifying a productive research assistantship in the first few months of your first year so you can maximize the time you have to do research.
2 | Clinical Activities
Pursuing extracurricular clinical activities as a medical student is important for exploring the many facets of medicine. It is not imperative to identify one particular clinical activity and stick with it throughout medical school. This is contrary to research, where sticking with one particular lab or research group will increase your chances of getting publications. Rather, the main goals of extracurricular clinical activities are to sharpen your clinical skills and sample different aspects of medicine outside the classroom to define your chosen specialty.
Some common extracurricular clinical activities include shadowing physicians in different specialties, participating in student-run clinics, or going abroad to do clinical work along with language immersion. Shadowing physicians is a great way to expose yourself to different medical specialties that may not be covered in your classes or rotations. Participating in free clinics and other service-oriented clinical activities will highlight your dedication to working with the domestic underserved. Going abroad to do clinical work will demonstrate your interest in global health. Ultimately, your passions and curiosities will guide you towards the appropriate clinical activity to pursue as a medical student.
3 | Leadership Role
Demonstrating your leadership skills in medical school is important for getting into residency. Some common examples of extracurriculars that demonstrate your leadership include participating in student government, joining or founding a club, or volunteering with the needy. You can combine this leadership role with a clinical activity. For instance, if you are interested in joining your medical school’s student-run free clinic, you can likely take on more of a leadership role and help run the clinic.
4 | Non-Medicine Activity
It is important for your mental health to pursue hobbies that are unrelated to medicine or getting into residency. These can include sports, music, art, reading, writing, etc. It is incredibly important for your quality of life to carve out time and continue pursuing these hobbies through medical school and beyond.
The four clades of extracurricular activities described above are general enough to apply to every medical student. Medical students in the early parts of medical school (i.e., the first two preclinical years) who have some idea of the specialty in which they are interested are in a better position to secure extracurriculars and continue building their CVs. However, it is completely okay to be undecided about your desired specialty early on. It could be that you are keeping an open mind until you start clinical rotations or that you are interested in multiple unrelated residencies. Bottom line: it is important to invest your limited resources wisely and curate your CV with relevant experiences. Good luck!