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Charting A Course to Medical School: PART II

Today we will be exploring Extracurricular Activities

You might ask yourself, "What does it take to become a doctor?" It takes intellectual and heart-rending endurance, the desire and ability to relate to people effectively, and especially, the competence to think logically and to use common sense. Medical schools look for evidence that demonstrates traits such as leadership, maturity, determination, inquisitiveness, and a demonstrated interest and knowledge about what medicine encompasses. This can be accomplished, in part, by having experience in a health care setting, by speaking with health care professionals who have been through it, or by getting exposure to research at the undergraduate level. Not only will involvement in extracurricular activities show your determination, it will also give you a realistic view of the medical field, enabling you to observe its shortcomings, demands, and rewards first-hand.

If you are unable to volunteer or find a health-related job at your local hospital or clinic, there are other alternatives. Working, playing sports, or even playing a musical instrument will demonstrate your commitment to a particular activity. These activities may take large amounts of time and may help explain your lack of involvement or enthusiasm elsewhere.

Many college students who have no other choice but to work in order to pay their expenses may find their outside employment a valuable experience and a possible source of recommendation. Nevertheless, it is important that pre-medical students maintain decent grade point averages. Outside employment is extremely time-consuming, especially for students who are already swamped with heavy course loads. This may lead to a lack of studying which will undoubtedly lead to lower grades. Many pre-professional advisors suggest that taking a semester off is often a good idea for those who have to work through school. On the other hand, many students actually find it easier to perform well in school while working a little every week; they find it gives them more structure -- that they can schedule their time more efficiently when they are forced to do so.

There is no doubt that pre-medical students face high degrees of stress, and many students turn to sports as a means of alleviating it. Participation in team sports in particular may exhibit your ability to cooperate with others (a very important trait for a physician).

While the personal and social traits that medical school admission committees seek in prospective applicants are difficult to measure, a display of devotion will definitely be beneficial and may increase your chances of being accepted to medical school. Nonetheless, it is crucial to point out that extracurricular involvement will not make up for low grades or low entrance exam scores.

It is also important to remember that you should be able to develop your interests outside of medicine. Book knowledge is not the only key to becoming a good physician -- communication skills, energy, and enthusiasm are also of great importance. Through extracurricular activities, you have the opportunity to develop these skills while pursuing interests which you truly enjoy.

A FEW TIPS

Pre-medical Access to Clinical Experience (PACE)
This guide outlines the most effective methods for securing a medically challenging patient contact experiences before medical school.

• Begin volunteering or shadowing physicians as soon as possible. Medical school admissions committees like applicants who know what is in store for them and who know what the profession is really like. Remember: most D.O. schools require a letter from a D.O. Letters from M.D.s are not accepted in place of a letter from a D.O. For students applying to allopathic medical schools, a letter from an M.D. that you shadowed can really help you out, too. A letter from a doctor who's simply a relative or a friend of the family will not get you really far.

• If working will make your grades suffer and you can avoid working while going to school, then do so. If you must work, try to get a job in a medical setting.

• Get involved in things you enjoy. There is a great deal more to education than books.

• For your extracurricular activities, quality matters, not quantity. Pick a few activities that you like and get really involved in them, instead of spreading yourself too thin.

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