Extracurricular activities are not just an optional requirement for medical school anymore

December 4, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Students learning clinical procedures from their hospital mentors Shadowing professionals as part of a medical placement, volunteering and conducting research are just some of the recommended extracurricular activities for any high school student wishing to apply to med school. While these activities are in fact optional, in recent years they have begun to play a significant role in whether or not you get called for a medical school interview.

Until a few years ago, just getting high academic grades and high scores in the UKCAT were enough to get you through to med school. All that has changed today. With admissions getting increasingly more competitive, medical schools have raised the bar tremendously and have become extremely selective. They want students who are smart enough to handle the rigorous academics of a medical programme and who are also truly passionate about helping people. This is where your extracurriculars can make a tremendous difference between submitting a successful application and an unsuccessful one.      


Why are these activities so important and why do they carry so much weight when applying to medical school?

Becoming a doctor is unlike any other job. As a doctor, you hold other people’s lives in your hands. Because of the nature of the job, it is important that before setting foot in medical school, all pre-med students get a better perspective of what the life and work of a physician is like. Medical professionals are highly glorified, courtesy of several television programmes. However the realities of being a doctor are far removed from any TV series. Shadowing a physician on a medical placement gives pre-med students a chance to see what being a doctor is really like and whether this is truly the right career to pursue. 

Med school admissions committees want to see that you have acquired some clinical experience and obtained a first hand idea about life as a doctor. What if you applied to medical school full of idealistic notions and then realised that you actually find it difficult to spend time around sick people or you just cannot stand the sight of blood? Applying for admission after gaining first hand clinical experience is proof that you know what is involved and are making an informed decision. Students who make informed decisions tend to be more committed to completing the course and are set to become better doctors.


Which activities carry the most weight?

As mentioned above, volunteering, shadowing professionals and doing research are among the best extracurricular activities you can engage in to boost your medical school application. You can choose to engage in any one of the activities or you can choose more than one. Whichever activity you opt for, it is important to remember that it does not matter how long you spend at that activity. What is more important and what admissions authorities will want to see is what you have learned from the activity and how you have grown from the experience. 

If you submit your application with high grades but have not done anything to gain clinical experience, odds are your application will not even be considered. It shows you have not taken the time to figure out if medicine is the right path for you and it does not give any indication of a passion for helping others – perhaps something to consider?