Extracurriculars for Medical School (& What I Did)

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I remember figuring out which extracurriculars to pursue was a daunting task. I made a few mistakes that you can all learn from. But first, before getting into the nitty gritty, realize that there is no magic bullet. Each person is going to pursue different extracurriculars based on their interests, strengths, and weaknesses. That being said, there are a few things you should keep in mind and try to incorporate into your free time that we will get to. A common mistake that many premeds make is spreading themselves too thin. It’s much better to focus your energy on only a few extracurriculars rather than joining several clubs or organizations as simply a member. I made the mistake of joining multiple pre-med or health-focused student groups as simply a member and never pursued a leadership position. Being a member of multiple premed organizations is essentially useless. Rather, pick one premed organization that you find is a good fit for you – something that you enjoy or aligns with your goals and values – and put in the time and effort to be intimately involved with the various aspects of it. You should be able to obtain a leadership position, bring about positive change, and overall experience personal growth and satisfaction. Rather than being a nuisance, it should become a worthwhile experience. Now extracurriculars can be divided into three categories
  1. Clinical
  2. Research
  3. Personal
 

Clinical

Clinical exposure demonstrates that you understand what it means to be a physician. This includes volunteering at the hospital, going on an international medical trip, shadowing physicians, etc. My own clinical exposure included 1) volunteering in the emergency department and 2) volunteering on an international medical trip. I did not get much shadowing done other than the emergency department and I really wish I did. The first time I stepped into the operating room was as a third year medical student which is far too late in my opinion.  

Research

Research (comprehensive guide to research here) is foundational to the field of medicine. It is what allows us to continuously improve patient care and is the basis for determining what diagnostic or therapeutic interventions to use. Although not every physician will necessarily also be a researcher, I urge you to get some exposure and see if it is something that interests you. Research can be broadly categorized into 1) basic and 2) clinical. I only did basic science research when I was in college, which included a lot of pipetting, PCR, Western blots, and other microbiology techniques. While the work is very important and impactful, I did not find the work particularly stimulating and I thought I would never want to do research again. In medical school, I fortunately got involved with clinical research which was a much better fit for me and I grew to enjoy it as I improved. Clinical research is not done at a bench in a lab, but rather involves patients – either direct interaction, database analysis, chart review, etc. Clinical research generally has a faster turnaround time but is also generally considered to have less weight or is considered easier than basic science research.  

Personal

Personal extracurriculars should be just that – personal. Do what makes you happy. If you love running, train and participate in a marathon, or start a running club. One of my friends loved long boarding so he started a club for it – it took off and grew rapidly, everyone had a blast, and they made many lasting friendships. Back when I was in college I participated and competed on a dance team, got involved with digital art and graphic design, and loved lifting heavy things and putting them back down. Be sure to make time for your personal extracurriculars – don’t focus on just doing research and clinical experiences. Your hobbies will help you deal with stress, allow you to create lasting friendships, and will ultimately keep you sane. In medical school I became a little less hardcore about powerlifting and got more into cycling and cars. I am training to cycle 600 miles in June and I race my car at the track in a safe and completely legal environment. While my professional interests appeal to me in a certain way, cycling and racing excite me in a completely different way. I urge you all to make time for your hobbies and passions – life is too short to not have fun. I would love to hear what your extracurriculars are. Not only clinical and research, but what you do for fun in your free time as well. Leave a comment below!
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