The main purpose for doing extracurricular activities prior to medical school is to prepare yourself for a career in medicine. These activities are crucial in helping you decide whether you want to do medicine at all. They are also important for looking good for admissions committees if you do decide to apply to medical school. Pursuing extracurricular activities during medical school serve a similar purpose: preparing yourself for residency and helping you decide what specialty you want to pursue. Since you have much less time in medical school, you have to be extremely selective in what you pursue. With that being said, there are two main to use to guide you in how to choose extracurricular activities as a medical student:
*When I discuss extracurricular activities in this article, I mainly am talking about activities that you can list on your CV or application to medical school. I do not include hobbies.
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What are you passionate about?
Even with limited time in medical school, you should still pursue extracurricular activities that are you passionate about. The main exception to this rule is doing research solely for the sake of trying to get into a competitive specialty. Sometimes research is a necessary evil that serves as a means to an end. Ultimately, everything from volunteering, student body leadership, mobile clinic, research, and various clubs are all fair things to pursue. Besides research and leadership, most other extracurricular activities look pretty much the same in the eyes of residency programs. It all depends on how you describe the activity on your application and during your interviews. Nevertheless, keep in mind that because of time constraints during medical school, you can probably pursue at most 2 (if you are doing research) – 3 (if you’re not during research) activities.
Are you at all interested in a competitive residency?
Competitive specialties are usually surgical subspecialties such as dermatology, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, urology, otolaryngology, and plastic surgery. These specialties have average Step 1 scores that are at least 240 with match rates in the 70 percents. If you know early on that you are interested (even a remote interest) in any of these specialties, you should start taking steps to prepare yourself. The most important thing you can do is do research. All of these specialties highly prioritize research when looking at your residency application. Residency programs want abstracts and publications. Research also helps you build relationships with mentors that will vouch for you in these small tight-knit communities with letters of recommendation and phone calls. These relationships are more important than most medical students realize. If you are interested in any of these specialties, finding a good, high-yield research position with a mentor in the specialty that you’re interested in is of the utmost priority.
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There are a lot of people who take time off, at least 1 year, to do research to try for a competitive specialty. Medical students also take a year off because they really cannot figure out what specialty to pursue. Being proactive with your extracurricular activities and shadowing as much as possible earlier in medical school can help prevent that from happening. 1 year may not feel like much but it is still 1 year that you could have potentially saved if you were more proactive.
Be decisive about what you are interested in and have a goal in mind but stay open-minded. Wandering aimlessly is never healthy. Having tunnel vision is not helpful either.