Applying to Medical School

Weekly Weigh-in: Most “Meaningful” Activities

Welcome to PDr’s Weekly Weigh-in! Each week, we ask medical students and physicians to weigh in on some of our most frequently asked pre-med questions.

This week’s question: What types of extracurricular activities did you pick as your top three most “meaningful” activities and why?

Evan Laveman, DGSOM MS2

For my 3 “meaningful” activities for the AMCAS activities section, I chose “Founding Member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity,” “Work as Emergency Medical Technician,” and “Coordinator for Emergency Medicine Research Associates (EMRA).” These were my top choices due to an honest self-evaluation of where of my time was spent, and which experiences contributed the most to my decision to continue pursuing medicine as a career. My clear first choice was the fraternity. I was highly involved in my chapter, and the majority of my emotional, leadership, and organizational growth came from that experience. I chose my work as an EMT because it was the most longitudinal and influential experience I had within the medical field (4 years). I became certified during my senior year of high school, and was licensed at the earliest possible age (on my 18th birthday). The experience provided me with a basic skill set for prehospital care, gave me direct patient interaction, and also left me constantly craving more medical knowledge to bolster my confidence as a young responder on the scene. Whereas EMT work served as a catalyst for my pursuit of medicine, it was my 3 years with EMRA that broadened my prehospital care experience with clinical research and exposure in the Ronald Reagan Emergency Department. It allowed me to more accurately define and defend my trajectory. I felt that my application ultimately ended up more cohesive and powerful due to how it was organized, and I think my top 3 activities served as an accurate and powerful reflection of what I felt was important to my candidacy. One might summarize as- “Early drive- Interest and exposure to medicine and patients through EMT work, validated in a clinical and academic setting through being an EMRA coordinator, and also possesses the interpersonal skills, leadership, innovation and balance to recolonize a social fraternity.”

|| Read: How to Stand Out with Extracurricular Activities ||

Edward Chang, DGSOM MS2

For my 3 “meaningful” activities, I chose:

President of a Christian campus ministry – Korean-American Campus Missions (KCM)

I was involved in KCM all throughout my 4 years at UCLA. I put this as a meaningful activity because I honestly think it was the biggest factor in my personal growth during college. I felt that I went deeper in my faith, learned how to be a better leader, and met some of my closest friends because of KCM. As I reflect on my activities during college, I think that being involved with KCM, more than any other extracurricular activity, prepared me most for medical school. It taught me all the intangibles that I take for granted such as how to relate to others, managing stress, being disciplined, caring for other people, learning how to talk to people about my or their problems, building community, etc. The list goes on and on. With that being said, don’t count out your non-medical activities for this section.

Clinical Research Associate – Institute of Urologic Oncology (IUO)

When I entered college as a freshman, I didn’t even know what research really was. By the end of my 4th year, research was one of the strongest parts of my application. I started this position during my fall quarter of sophomore year. It was important to me because it gave me both clinical and research experience. Honestly, for the first year or so, I did a lot of menial work: organizing binders, collecting lab specimen and running errands. I often felt that the work was not necessarily helpful in advancing my career. However, as I did those things well, I was given more and more responsibility. The more I learned about clinical research, the more I wanted to learn about the basic research that preceded it. That’s why I ended up working in a basic science lab.

Side notes:

I mainly worked with nurses and research coordinators, not doctors. Nevertheless, it gave me a valuable opening to the medical world that eventually lead to my clinical research job during my year off. My boss, who was a research coordinator, put in a good word for me to her former boss, a urologist, when I was looking for a full-time research job and that was the difference-maker in me getting the job.

Undergraduate Research – Departmental of Biological Chemistry

To be honest, I didn’t think I was very good at basic science research. Nevertheless, as I made a lot of mistakes, I learned a lot. I developed as a scientist, learning how to think critically and creatively. My PI and mentor constantly challenged me to think about the next steps in my project. I had to break out of my comfort zone intellectually to keep up. I remember a moment during my senior year when I had a panic attack because my responsibilities were overwhelming me, especially this research position. My mentor forced me to take a couple of weeks off and that really made all the difference. This experience reminded me things like failed experiments, in the big scheme of things, were really nothing.

|| Read: Write About Your Hobbies on the Medical School Application ||

Emily Singer, DGSOM MS2

The following are remarks on my three “most meaningful” activities. I deliberately chose activities in which I had spent the most time, and that demonstrated some breadth of experience. Specifically, I selected non-clinical volunteering experience, my job in the scientific private sector, and a clinical shadowing experience that shed light on what medicine is really about.

Building Futures Mentor, YMCA

As a mentor I have had the opportunity to build a relationship with a remarkable young lady of very different cultural, socioeconomic, and educational background than myself. Over the past year Lori has come to trust and confide in me. I look forward to seeing her each week and am gratified to be a part of her life as she goes through significant changes and experiences: switching schools, turning 16, attending the “very uncomfortable” sex-ed portion of health class, and deciding if and how to have contact with her mother. We talk through these issues together as we do craft projects, visit museums, or take walks along Ocean Beach and in Golden Gate Park. We have also worked on practical skills, such as handling money and reading public transit maps. Over the past year, I believe that I have also instilled a sense of confidence in Lori. When we first met, she was unable to make decisions even about what to order off a menu. Now showing fierce independence, she selects an item for herself and reminds me what I ordered last time. Despite not being a mental health specialist, as a mentor I am a source of stability and emotional support for a teenager experiencing a great deal of hardship.

Research Scientist, CleanWell Company

In my health economics courses at Stanford, I studied the “externalities” of interventions. For example, overuse of antibiotics increases bacterial resistance in the community, which leads to increasingly dangerous infections. At CleanWell, I have had the opportunity to study infection control while working on therapeutic interventions that promote better health practices to prevent disease in individuals and their communities. My work includes developing a topical agent to treat infections common in hospital settings and improve the antimicrobial profile of systemic drugs against resistant infections. An agent that helps reduce the resistance of highly infectious diseases like MRSA in an individual patient could reduce transmission within a hospital or a community and the need for systemic antibiotics. Decreased morbidity improves patient well-being, and, for those in the developing world, can lead to substantial economic improvements. At CleanWell I have been part of building simple, safe, low-cost interventions that can bring about meaningful improvements in people’s lives and could have substantial impacts on global health. The experience has provided a window on the possibilities granted by a career specializing in Infectious Diseases.

Clinical Shadowing, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

I grew up following my mother to see her patients as well as ailing family members and friends. In an official position with HIPAA training, I had the opportunity to observe scheduled examinations in her clinic. I was struck by how similar these visits were to home visits: After a familiar greeting my mother listened to her patient explain how he was feeling and asked probing questions to understand his physical and emotional state while checking vitals. These visits never felt rushed, and patients always seemed relaxed. My mother explained frankly specifics of the patient’s disease and traditional and experimental therapy options, being considerate of the family’s expectations without condescending to them. The part of this experience that was new to me was observing what happened after clinical rounds – the extensive discussions with clinical and research staff about optimal treatments and the possibility of enrolling the patient in a clinical trial. Through exposure to both her clinical and research processes, I came to see how my mother’s practice was as much about building individual relationships with patients as it was about building a body of knowledge to facilitate better treatments and outcomes for the community of men with prostate cancer.

|| Read: But I Don’t Have 15 AMCAS Activities! ||

Brandon Brown, UCSF MS1

My top 3 extra-curricular activities were basic science research in physiology, iGEM, and my part-time job as a web-programmer.

These extra-curricular activities we’re my most meaningful because they we’re the ones I was most passionate about and consequently spent the most time with. My job as a part-time web programmer was mostly because I needed the money, but I have a long background with programming and I felt fortunate to have the ability to make money doing something I enjoyed and it was an opportunity to maintain that skill. I also felt it was a maturing process to have a “real” job while in college with the responsibilities and benefits that it came with.

I also worked in 2 research labs consecutively during undergrad. The first lab was focused (broadly speaking) on cancer biochemistry. I learned a lot, had wonderful mentors, and (after several months of acclimating) felt like I was making a real contribution to the lab, which is really motivating. After a year working there, I switched to a neuroscience lab mostly because I was a neuroscience major and in order to get credit within the major, I needed to be doing a relevant project. Since I already had a year of research experience behind me, I was able to become productive in the new lab a lot more quickly. I also felt more involved in the actual theory behind our research since the topic was more interesting to me. Lab quickly took the lion’s share of my time and I recall working in lab late into the next morning on occasions. Hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, and by the time I graduated, my PI offered me a full-time job as a staff researcher during my gap year and also resulted in a very strong letter of recommendation.

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is a global synthetic biology competition where teams from various universities work on a synthetic biology project over the summer and then present their project and results in the fall. It’s a fairly big competition now and most major research universities in the U.S. had teams…except UCLA at the time I was an undergrad. Previous attempts at forming a team had been made but nothing came to fruition for various reasons. I fortuitously got in contact with a new post-doc who had experience with iGEM at her alma mater, and we worked together to start UCLA’s first iGEM team. While my participation in iGEM was limited after getting it off the ground, it is definitely something I’m passionate about and I am so glad I had the opportunity to be involved in its beginning at UCLA.

Emily Chiu

Emily Chiu is the Director of Logistics at She is currently a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA. If you have any questions about her work, or are interested in contributing to, please contact her at [email protected]. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter, @ProspectiveDr.

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