How to Focus Your Interests for Medical School

Padya Paramita

How to Focus Your Interests for Medical School

You probably know very well by now that admission into medical school is not a walk in the park. In fact, it is one of the most cutthroat admissions processes out there—and it’s only getting more competitive. In 2020, Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans saw applications for admission to the class of 2025 increase by more than 35%. At Boston University School of Medicine, they rose by 26%, and at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, admissions officers saw applications increase by 27%. So, the work is not easy. To distinguish yourself from the competition, you need to stand out. In order to do so, you must focus your interests for medical school.

Now you might be wondering exactly what it means to focus your interests for medical schools. Look at it this way: every applicant will have a GPA and an MCAT score when preparing for medical school, and many candidates will have top notch numbers. Focused interests are how admissions committee members note who is unique, who has worked hard to do more than just the bare minimum as a pre-med student, and. whose interests are specialized within a particular area of medicine. This means that you should avoid doing an internship at a pediatrics hospital, shadow a cardiologist, and then conduct research under a neurology specialist. If you’ve got a specialty in mind for the future, great. If not, you should still try to maintain a certain theme in your application, whether it’s your advocacy for women’s rights or an interest in doing thyroid cancer research.

To guide you through some ways to focus your interests for medical school, I’ve outlined different ways to explore your specific passion within medicine so that you can build a top-notch application.

Conduct research in your field of interest

Research has practically become an unspoken expectation for medical school applicants. Since more and more students are engaged in it before applying for MD programs, you need to figure out how to make your research stand out. You could be involved in bench research, clinical research, qualitative research, or quantitative research, depending on where your interests lie and the kinds of opportunities you can find for students at your level. Look for research opportunities with science professors at your college, contact local hospitals or medical centers affiliated with your undergraduate institution, inquire with local labs, or start your own research project in your gap year.

While you’re looking for a research job or opportunity, don’t forget that the goal is to focus your interests for medical school. As a result, it also matters how your research experience fits within the context of the rest of your application. Saying you want to be a pediatrician in your personal statement and then conducting research about the impact of air pollution on the elderly won’t make the most sense. So, when thinking of an opening on a research team, consider if the position would align with the theme of your application when looked at side-by-side with your other extracurriculars. 

Try to get your research published

One of the biggest benefits of conducting research is that you would have concrete results to show medical school admissions committees. Through a published article in a medical journal you’ll be able to demonstrate that you have dug deeper within a unique topic, that ties along with your interests. With a report in front of them, medical schools would be immediately able to recognize that you’ve dug deep within a topic of interest, which would help you stand out.

While everyone might not have the chance to be published, if your professor or supervisor includes your name in their paper, it certainly can help distinguish you from other applicants. If you conduct research under an organization, you’ll probably be expected to present your results as well as make a poster. This can help gather all your findings in one place in case you need to revisit the data when filling out the AMCAS. Your research can also start interesting conversations with your interviewer when you reach the decisive third stage of the application process—and they can learn more about how you’ve been able to focus your interests for medical school.

Find a physician in a particular specialty field to shadow

Shadowing a doctor is one of the most common extracurriculars for pre-med students to pursue. Therefore, it’s important to have more on your activities list than just shadowing. Because shadowing is such a common pre-med activity, it’s important that you put careful thought into it. When looking for doctors to shadow, try to find one in your field of interest. For example, if you want to be a pediatric surgeon and have other activities that align with this interest, such as volunteering with UNICEF or conducting research at a children’s hospital, try finding a pediatrician to shadow. 

There are many benefits to shadowing a doctor in your specific field of interest. First and foremost, doing so will allow you to solidify that this area of medicine is indeed right for you. Plus, in terms of your medical school application, shadowing a doctor in your field will show that you are committed to this subject and that you are interested in delving deeper into it. 

Volunteer for a certain cause

One of the most important qualities sought after in doctors is altruism. Though depending how your career goes after medical school, it might be rare that you engage in pro-bono work in the future, but medical schools want to see that you still have the willingness to do so. This is where volunteering opportunities come in. Prospective medical school applicants often go out and help out their local communities as needed. Not only does this look good on your medical application, but this is also a very practical use of your time as a pre-med student—you get to collaborate with others in your area or city and you are actually providing help to people while you’re at it. 

However, as is the case with research and shadowing, don’t volunteer arbitrarily. In order to focus your interests for medical school you must stick to a certain theme. This doesn’t have to be a specialty either. You may be a future doctor who is particularly dedicated to the prevention of death by drowning. Why not volunteer as a local lifeguard or provide swim lessons to your community? Even if the involvement isn’t explicitly medical, you can think of creative ways to tie them together. Think out of the box!

Tap into your other interests

One of the most effective ways to stand out in medical school is to show medical school admissions committees that you are a multidimensional individual. While you must certainly bring clinical experience and experience in the medical field, many students are admitted to medical school because they also have other passions that they can still connect to medicine. Alongside being a pre-med student you might be a passionate dancer or a chef. Take advantage of your personal statement or secondary essays to discuss what you have learned from this other area of interest and how that can help you succeed in medical school. Even though it’s not tied into medicine explicitly, being a national champion in a sport can help you stand out—because that’s a memorable fact about you. So, being really good at something else can help you reach your medicinal goals!

Show how you’ve fared despite the pandemic

2020 is an unprecedented year but it’s also a crucial one for those interested in medicine. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the medicine world more uniquely than ever. As you think about how to focus your interests for medical school, you should also consider how you’ve fared in spite of the pandemic. As you think about your specialty field and your time spent preparing for medical school, think about the ways in which you’ve pursued your interests at this time. You may have helped your friend build an app that tracks cases in your community, you could have organized a donation drive to help those who have been affected by COVID-19 in your area, or you may have been instrumental when it came to helping your community members access testing sites. No matter what you’ve done, don’t leave it out of your application. Your assertiveness during the crisis may have been tied to your specific interests in medicine. This is a great way to show admissions committees what you’ve done to focus your interests for medical school.

Because of the ruthless nature of the medical school admissions process, it’s important to go beyond just the regular studying hard for the MCAT and working as a scribe in order to stand out among your peers. You must show the admissions committee that you are committed to the field and have really dug deeper into your particular interests in medicine. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. Good luck!

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