In addition to staying well informed about medical school prerequisites during their undergraduate education, pre-med students also need to consider what to do outside of the classroom to be competitive med school applicants. This month, I’ll be discussing what pre-med students should do beyond getting good grades in their classes to make this happen.
The top two most important metrics that medical schools look at are undoubtedly GPA and MCAT, but numbers aren’t everything. It is also crucial for students aiming to attend medical school to build a well-rounded resume by having meaningful experiences during their undergraduate years. This can be in the form of research, volunteering, work experience, or clinical experience.
In a perfect world, I’d say to seek out all four, but that isn’t always realistic. Students should aim to gain as many meaningful experiences as they can without compromising their grades or sanity. If I had to rank the four types of experiences outlined above, I’d say that research and clinical experience are both crucial to a good application, but volunteering and work experiences should also be sought out wherever possible. Not only do they add depth to an application, but students can gain relationships with their supervisors and get valuable letters of recommendations as well.
Let’s break down each type of experience:
Students should aim to begin gaining lab experience as soon as possible. At smaller schools, it may be possible to begin during the freshman year. On the other hand, although this may be more difficult at bigger universities, students will likely have the potential to participate in bigger research projects.
Students should try to participate in research that interests them so that they enjoy the process and can talk about it in detail during med school interviews with some level of interest or passion.
Similarly, the more involved a student can be in a research project, the better. Medical school admissions offices know very well how research teams work, and students who claim to have worked on high-profile projects will likely be questioned to determine the extent of their contribution. In other words, contribution may be more important than the content of the project itself.
Most students don’t know what kind of doctor they want to be while they are undergraduate students. Regardless, students should aim to gain some sort of clinical experience, preferably in a variety of settings and specialties.
There are two major options for students: scribing and shadowing.
Scribes are paid to follow physicians and take notes during appointments for the doctor to use later. They play a helpful role on the clinical team while learning real medicine and getting paid to do so.
Shadowing is a different sort of experience, where students arrange to follow (“shadow”) doctors while they work. Depending on the physician, students can get first-hand experience watching doctors and learning from them. This tends to be more of a teaching arrangement than scribing, and can be more beneficial to the student.
Volunteer and Work Experience
Volunteering is a valuable experience for pre-med students. It shows generosity and is a great talking-point during interviews. If students are passionate about a specific type of charity, I’d encourage them to participate in volunteering opportunities. Similarly, if students get close to their supervisors, they can request letters of recommendation when the time comes to apply to medical schools.
The same goes for work experiences. If students are interested in a particular line of work, they can gain a lot of good experience and, critically, make relationships that can result in letters of recommendation. Working should ideally be related to medicine or the sciences, otherwise it may not be seen as valuable. Being a science/math tutor or working in medicine-related fields are both great options.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of extracurricular options for pre-med students, and if you’d like to ask any questions or discuss your options in more depth, please feel free to touch base with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.