Are you wondering what extracurricular activities will make your medical school application shine? Are you feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly superhuman students who are involved in everything from research to volunteering? In this article, we'll explore the qualities medical schools look for in applicants and provide strategies for choosing the right extracurricular activities to strengthen your application.
The "Ideal" Applicant
Many of us have encountered those exceptional students who seem to juggle multiple clubs, shadow multiple doctors, volunteer tirelessly, and engage in research projects simultaneously. While their accomplishments are impressive, comparing yourself to them can be daunting. It's essential to remember that every applicant is unique, and there's no one-size-fits-all formula for success in medical school admissions.
Volunteering is one of the most important extracurriculars for medical school applicants. One question that we commonly receive about service activities is whether mission trips or international volunteering look even better than community service done in your local community.
The answer is: No, international opportunities are not inherently more impressive. While it’s understandable that you might think that your service will seem more meaningful if it benefits people living in a developing country, or that volunteering abroad will just be more memorable and therefore help you stand out, the truth is that med schools simply want to see a commitment to service, whether that’s domestic or abroad.
In other words, working with underserved individuals in your local community will reflect just as well on you. In fact, one reason why volunteering locally is often more advantageous is that it allows you to serve for an extended period of time.
Long-term service will better demonstrate your commitment to helping others and it’ll provide you with a greater opportunity to make a measurable impact.
It's recommended, although not compulsory, that you shadow physicians across two or three specialties (e.g., primary care, nephrology, dermatology, emergency medicine) and across two or three contexts (e.g., inpatient, outpatient, community clinic, operating room). This way, you can demonstrate to medical school admission committees that you're familiar with the breadth of clinical practice.
In Singapore, there are structured shadowing programmes available for application:
Furthermore, we would suggest reaching out to and directly asking doctors (consultants and above). Most hospitals offer informal, unstructured shadowing programmes where you can be attached to specific doctors for a couple of days if they are agreeable to it.
Shadowing is incredibly important as it's a valuable opportunity to observe doctors’ daily routines, whether it involves making rounds in the wards or seeing patients in the clinics. It also provides an excellent chance to engage in conversation with them and ask any questions you may have about a career in medicine. This experience can either strengthen your motivations or potentially alter your perspective on pursuing a career in medicine in the future.