|Taken in 2006: Literally two weeks before giving birth to my daughter|
With all the fuss that goes on about GPA and MCAT scores, a lot of people tend to forget another important aspect of the medical school application process: extracurricular activities (ECs). Some medical schools weigh these heavily because it shows that you can be a well-rounded student and balance multiple activities. It’s easy to have a 4.0 GPA if the only thing you do is go to school and study, and it is way more noticeable if you can maintain a high GPA while being heavily involved. In my case, I was extremely involved in when I first started my undergraduate career, and I tried my best to maintain my activities even after I had my daughter. I will say that once I became a mother, it became a lot harder to keep up with my ECs, but I found a way to have meaningful employment that sometimes doubled as community service and work. A lot of students may have to work to support themselves or families, and I know that medical schools take this into consideration as well. I guess the point is to make sure that you are always staying busy. You don’t necessarily have to become an officer of an organization or do community service all the time, but if you can fit it in every once in a while then you should be good to go. With that being said, below is a condensed list of the ECs I listed on my application (along with some commentary) so that you can get an idea of how they may have helped offset some of my low stats.
Research – This is how I killed two birds with one stone. Research offered me paid employment, the chance to write abstracts and present posters out of state, and I even got a few publications. I basically have been doing research since junior year of undergrad. A lot of schools want to see research experience, so if you’re lucky enough to find a lab with money then this is a good route for a non-traditional student or someone who’s been out of school for a while.
Hospital Volunteer – I volunteered 4 hours every Sunday for basically all of 2013. I was in the Labor & Delivery department, so this mostly consisted of getting patients extra blankets, bottles, etc and checking urine and diaper amounts. It was pretty low-key so I used most of the time to study. Being in a hospital is also a good way to get the clinical experience that most schools want, and it lets you know if you really want to pursue medicine for the rest of your life. If you hate being in a hospital or if you don’t like sick people, then you may decide that another career path will work best for you.
Regular Volunteering – Hurricane Katrina hit my very first semester of undergrad, so that is where my volunteering started. My school was one of the emergency centers for the state and since we were closed, I spent a lot of long days and nights helping those being flown in. Clean-up volunteering was on-going for a few months after the storm. I’ve also served as a high school mentor, volunteered at health fairs, read books to elementary children, and helped with a few on-campus events.
Physician Shadowing – I have over 200 hours of this just by spending every day one summer shadowing a DO. This took a bit of effort because I also had to work, but I somehow got it all in. In 2013, I shadowed another DO and got about 20 hours from this. Most osteopathic schools will require a letter from an osteopathic physician, and you usually won’t get it unless you’ve spent some time with the person usually in the form of shadowing.
Employment – Outside of research I also had jobs that included teaching autistic children, working for the Battered Women’s Program legal office, being a coffee house barista, and even working for residential life on campus. The first two jobs doubled as community service in a sense, and my work for the BWP was one of my most meaningful experiences. As a single mother, I needed to make sure that my child was taken care of, but I also really tried my best to have jobs that could benefit my medical school application as well. I’ve also served coffee and worked other odd jobs as well, so don’t be afraid to do what you need to do to take of yourself.
Organizations / Leadership – I served as an officer in a pre-medical organization, and I also was the Vice-President/Co-Founder of an on-campus HIV/AIDS organization. This took a lot of effort and it wasn’t really feasible once I became a mother. I was involved until I couldn’t be anymore though. Case in point: the above picture was taken two weeks before I gave birth to my daughter. The sweat shirt covers my huge belly, but I was out with one of my organizations and a big smile on my face painting houses for the elderly.
Conferences / Presentations – Whether I solely attended a conference or presented at one, I listed them all on my applications. Outside of those related to my research I mostly attended conferences related to medicine, so in my opinion listing them shows the schools that you really are interested. For presentations, I listed conferences that I attended and did not attend separately. Some of the research that has been done in my lab has been presented at international conferences, but I could not attend. If your name is listed on the abstract or poster though, you can still list it and just make a note that you were a contributor. I also listed the travel awards that I received from some conferences.
I think that basically sums up my ECs. I know I didn’t list all the hours, but all my volunteering and community service hours came out to be over 1500 when I had to calculate them for one of my secondary applications. For employment, I usually worked 25-30 hours per week. I know a few people who think they should list being a parent as an EC, but I am somewhat against this. While raising a child and attending school is a huge accomplishment, it is a 24/7 job and not just an activity. I did mention the fact that I am a mother in my personal statement, but I left my activities section for everything else. I also would suggest keeping track of everything you do from the time you start college, because there were quite a few things that I forgot about and failed to mention in previous application cycles. This list can also be put into the form of a CV and used to give to your letter writers when the time comes.