The AMCAS Work and Activities Section is where you can share all of the awards, memberships, research, clinical experiences, paid employment, publications, leadership, extracurricular activities and volunteer work you received or participated in during college and after.
To give you a better idea of what to include in this section of the application, I am providing examples of activity descriptions and most meaningful essays at the bottom of this blog post. They were generously shared by students who were accepted into medical school. As you’ll see, these are exceptionally well-written pieces because they demonstrate how each student has put the maximum amount of effort into their roles and responsibilities and gained an impressive degree of insight into themselves, others, the experience itself, and the impact they had.
You have a limit of 15 activities that you can include in the AMCAS application. However, as long as the activities are similar enough to each other, you can combine up to four different experiences within one activity description. Take advantage of this to make sure that you cover everything. It will hurt your application if you have less than 15 activities. As you’ll see below, the types of activities that you include, the length of time you participated, and your description of these events all have an impact on how the adcom views your dedication to this career path.
What kinds of activities should you include in the AMCAS work and activities section?
- Community service
- Hands-on clinical experience
- Honors and awards
- Paid employment
The types of activities most relevant to medicine are the three at the top of the list above. If possible, be strategic in making sure that you cover multiple areas. Since shadowing is considered the most passive form of clinical experience, hands-on clinical experience (like serving as a hospital volunteer, an interpreter, a medical scribe, an EMT, or a medical assistant) is more highly valued.
What’s the ideal breakdown for your AMCAS work and activities?
The strongest applicants have (a) three or more leadership roles, (b) three or more community service activities, (c) three or more clinical experiences, (d) one honors and awards section (in which you detail them all), (e) one shadowing section (describe all shadowing under one heading), (f) one or more research projects, (g) one or more internships, (h) one or more paid employment (you can list all under one to save space), and (i) one hobby (preferably one in which you have reached some degree of mastery and/or teach to others).
As long as you cover the four key areas highlighted above (leadership, community service, hands-on clinical experience, and honors and awards) and you have 15 or more (you can include multiple activities within one activity description) experiences, any combination of the activity types mentioned above can be successful.
What should you NOT include in this section?
- Hair or blood donations
- Babysitting for family
- Research or projects for which you received course credit
- Paid employment that could be considered unethical or morally questionable
- Shadowing a parent or family member who is a medical professional
- Religious attendance
How long-term should activities be?
The length of time that you participate in activities will be scrutinized. Exclusively short-term activities – for example no more than six months in every activity — can be considered a red flag. Lots of short-term activities may indicate that the applicant is difficult to work with or lacks commitment. I recommend including long-term (one year or longer) activities, whenever possible. Most successful applicants have a combination of long- and short-term experiences.
How to write a strong activity description
For each activity description, you need to explain what the company or organization was and what your responsibilities included. The best descriptions indicate what you have learned and include strong conclusions that demonstrate a high level of reflection in terms of what the experience meant to you and how you helped others through it. For instance, “ABCMC is a non-profit healthcare facility serving the Main Street community.” If your experience is in a lab, explain the research goal in terms anyone can understand.
Be sure to focus on your responsibilities. This is the heart of your experience, so be specific about what you did – and the impact you had. This might be your role as a team member in a lab: “I recorded vital signs and took medical histories for patients, and shared these notes with on-staff physicians before appointments.” Or it might be your leadership of a group: “Over the 15-week campaign, as I learned to adopt a coaching mentality, I discovered a new confidence in my ability to apply my knowledge and relay information to the athletes.” Whatever it is, go beyond the superficial job description and use this space to identify your strengths and accomplishments.
How to choose your three most meaningful experiences
Your three most meaningful activities should expand on these points above, but they also need to tell us why each one matters to you. This is a chance to reveal your goals, values, and personal qualities in a way that the shorter descriptions of your responsibilities don’t allow. Through these three activities, we’ll see how you put your beliefs into action, so don’t be afraid to get personal here. It’s great to hear that you made a strong impact on a person or a community, but be sure to tell us why making that kind of impact is important to you. And of course, emphasize, if relevant, how this is going to make you a better physician.
To help you write the strongest possible activity descriptions and most meaningful essays (MMEs), I am providing samples below from applications of students who were accepted into medical school. These are random samples taken from three different applications and anonymized.
EXAMPLES of outstanding activity descriptions and MMEs:
Activity Description #1: Volunteer at Free Clinic
My primary responsibility as a volunteer at the Free Clinic of Central State was patient intake. I recorded vital signs and took medical histories for patients, and shared these notes with on-staff physicians before appointments. My favorite aspect of this experience was providing a comforting, reassuring presence for patients. By actively listening to patients and making sure that they felt understood, I found that my relatively small role could make a big difference. I also shadowed physicians while at the clinic and learned about several different specialties.
Activity Description #2: ED Technician
ABCMC is a non-profit healthcare facility serving the Main Street community. After working closely with emergency physicians as a scribe, I decided to apply to become an ED technician. In this position, I work alongside nurses in providing patient care and performing procedures under their supervision. I have developed a comprehensive knowledge of emergent clinical procedures and the process of implementing treatment plans. I thoroughly enjoy performing procedures and comforting patients and their families. Through this experience, I have gained a greater respect for the care the clinical team and support staff provides to patients and physicians.
Activity Description #3: Nutrition Program Developer and Director
Nutrition and access to healthy and fresh food is a huge barrier to our patients in improving their health at XYZ. Nutrition was frequently mentioned as an area that patients would benefit from improving, however, no sustainable solution or support program existed to help patients make these changes. I developed a screening tool with an attending physician at the clinic, trained volunteers to use them and collected patient survey data for a year on the nutritional preferences and needs of every patient possible. I then established a nutrition education program at XYZ
MME Example #1 (Activity description and MME)
Activity Description: Intern
Prior to the start of my last semester in graduate school, I was hired by the U. State Football Performance Staff to serve as an Intern Strength and Conditioning Coach. In this position, I assisted the staff during training sessions by coaching proper lifting techniques and providing direction and encouragement for the players. On several occasions, I led the team through myofascial-release exercises and warm-ups prior to workouts. I also helped set up and break down equipment for workouts and drills prior to each training session. The internship also included an education component, in which I learned how to construct precisely targeted, comprehensive strength and conditioning programs.
Most Meaningful Experience Remarks:
From working with elite athletes at the peak of their physical potential, I gained new insight into the functional capacity of the human body. Throughout the semester, I studied an array of training schemes and modalities, and learned how these can be differentially leveraged according to an athlete’s unique physiology, training background, and positional needs in order to optimize physiologic adaptations. I was fascinated by the amount of research, experimentation, and creativity that goes into developing strength and conditioning programs. Coaching the athletes allowed me to translate theory into practice; I knew that each lift or drill that I instructed would play an intricate role in developing our athletes according to a precisely calculated plan. It was an electrifying experience to quantify the players’ weekly improvements in strength, power, and speed. However, becoming a coach taught me far more than how to construct strength programs or cue proper technique, I had to step up as a leader in a new environment. Over the 15-week campaign, as I learned to adopt a coaching mentality, I discovered a new confidence in my ability to apply my knowledge and relay information to the athletes.
MME Example #2
Activity Description: Undergraduate Research Assistant
During my undergraduate education, I pursued research opportunities to enhance my understanding of physiology. I examined maximum aerobic capacity while subjects biked in simulated conditions in an environmental chamber. The next year, I assessed the effects of running footwear degradation on kinetic forces of the body. I measured these via force plate and utilized ViCon Motion Systems to capture and perform gait analysis at several stages of shoe degradation. To examine biological systems in greater detail, I studied the effects of lactate concentration on succinate catalysis in mitochondrial cells. I became proficient in enzyme extraction/separation with centrifugation and PAGE techniques.
Most Meaningful Experience Remarks:
These research experiences led to my interest in learning more about physiology and the performance potential of the body. In physiology, I questioned how climate influences endurance capacity and tested it. I enjoyed analyzing research articles to identify gaps in our knowledge, question methodologies, and interpret data, so I continued to seek other opportunities. In kinesiology, I concluded that shoe degradation is a function of miles put on the shoe and greatly affects the kinetic forces on the lower body. I learned how to collect and interpret new sets of data. I analyzed variances based on physics and statistics, which showed me that all fields of science are integrated into physiologic processes. I then enrolled in a cellular biology course. In the lab, I questioned the effects of lactate concentration on metabolism and developed a protocol to assess it. I learned which substrate quantities manipulate metabolism and its mechanism of action. The professor invited me to present my research to the department. By stepping out of my comfort zone, I developed professional poise while speaking with experts about my results. These research opportunities drew me closer towards medicine in the hopes of learning how disease influences physiology and vice versa. I plan to pursue research in medical school.
MME Example #3
Activity Description: Health Coach
The patients I served at XYZ were largely an underserved population that needed support, access to health information, an advocate for their health both in clinic and out, and improved continuity of care. As a health coach, my job was to try and fill those needs. I used motivational interviewing to help patients articulate their questions to their provider while also helping them understand that they could actively take place in their healthcare and how. I advocated for patients during their visit, ensuring all their questions were addressed and followed up with each patient. Finally, to help improve health literacy, I would review each patient’s after-visit summary and medications list.
Most Meaningful Experience Remarks:
As a health coach, I learned that half the battle for patients in regaining or maintaining good health, especially for people in underserved areas, is empowerment and support. As part of the pilot XYZ volunteers, I helped to implement XYZ motivational interviewing template to empower patients to ask questions, showed them they had a say in their own care and helped them to realize they could make the changes they wanted and needed to improve their health. To help improve continuity of care and accessibility, I followed up with patients every two weeks and relayed questions or concerns they had to their provider, who then personally addressed them. Additionally, XYZ saw many non-English speaking patients, so I dedicated extra time to working with them through a translator to make sure they understood all the information on their after-visit summary as well as their medications list. To improve health literacy for all patients, I helped pilot the use of a pictorial medication adherence form. I filled this form out with the patients, verified it with the provider, and then reviewed it with the patient before they left. It was my responsibility to help patients make the most of their visit by empowering them to get involved in their care and ensuring they left their visit well informed.
Use these examples to reflect more deeply on your own experiences. Please do not copy or plagiarize any part of these paragraphs in your own application. It would only take a simple google search for an application reviewer to identify where they came from. Ultimately, your application shouldn’t sound like anyone else—except you. Be yourself in writing about what inspires and motives you. Every application should showcase an entirely unique combination of experiences and reflections. The effort and thought that you put into this section of the application matters and will have an enormous impact on the outcome.
To learn how write the best activity descriptions, read: Activity Descriptions for Med School: 4 Questions That Will Make Yours Awesome.
The process that went into creating these MMEs made all the difference. Outline your ideas to provide more thoughtful and detailed responses—identifying the reasons why the experience was so meaningful to you. Start with the least important and end with the most significant ones. Give yourself enough time to complete a few rounds of edits to submit your best work. You may end up enjoying the experience and learning something about yourself. If you can, have fun with it!
Do you need help optimizing your AMCAS Work and Activities Section? Check out our AMCAS Admissions Services and work one-on-one with an advisor to create an impressive, well-written, compelling application that will highlight your competitive edge and help you get ACCEPTED.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar worked for 5 years as the Student Advisor & Director at the UC Davis School of Medicine’s postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and other health professional programs. She has served Accepted’s clients since 2012 with roughly a 90% success rate. She has a Master of Arts in Composition and Rhetoric as well as Literature. Want Alicia to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!