This is the second post in our series on applying to med school in the most efficient and timely manner. You’ve got six months to make this happen. Make sure you do it right by following the tips in Med School Action Plan: 6 Steps for the 6 Months Before You Apply.
In the time leading up to the submission of your application, you can improve your experience section by making sure that you have established a strong balance in the number and quality of your activities. The AMCAS application allows space for 15 activities. If you do not have 15 activities, find a way to get more involved in your community. It can actually hurt your application to have less than the total number possible. Also, it is better to have a combination of short and long term commitments. It can raise red flags if you only have activities that have lasted six months or less. A long term activity is one that you have continued for a year or longer. You can use the following criteria to evaluate your activities:
Clinical experience: If you only have shadowing experience in this category, I recommend finding more active clinical involvement. Shadowing is not valued as highly as other types of clinical experience. It is considered the most passive form—the only person who benefits from shadowing is the student—not the doctor or the patient. However, if you can become a volunteer or a translator at a free clinic or travel to another country to assist in providing free medical services, you will gain more direct patient interaction and support healthcare professionals in providing care to people in need.
Community Service: Your community service does not have to be medically related. Work with the populations that interest you the most—do you enjoy working with children or do you prefer assisting the elderly? Taking the time to work with people of all ages and backgrounds can help you decide what specialty or field of medicine you would like to pursue later in your career. All forms of community service are valuable.
Leadership: If you have not yet taken a leadership role in any of your activities, now is the time. It’s better to have six months of leadership experience than none at all. Even if you have to push yourself to take on a more public role or more responsibility than you are used to, you may grow in ways that you never anticipated. This type of activity is critical to your application. Mentoring, tutoring or any kind of teaching role can be considered leadership experience.
Cultural Awareness: Most medical schools have a question in their secondary applications about diversity. You can anticipate this question by building on your activities section by becoming involved in clubs or organizations that resonate with you on a cultural level. Learn more about your background. Teach others about your history and culture. We all have unique histories, experiences and interests to share.
Research: Research is optional at most medical schools. Though it is not required, it can demonstrate your intellectual acuity and interest in understanding the basic sciences. It’s also a valuable way to showcase your ability to work with a team. Consider taking on a short-term research project, just to learn more about the scientific process. Whether you enjoy it or decide it’s not for you, you will have gained a more educated perspective.
Taking the time to review your activities to make sure that you have 15—the limit—and that you have long term as well as short term activities that are balanced in the categories covered above will significantly improve the quality of your application. Don’t get caught up in the details—take a big picture perspective, as needed. For more guidance on how to be strategic about your activities, you are welcome to contact me or my colleagues at Accepted for expert advice.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs. Want Alicia to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!