Worst Extracurriculars for Medical School: Common Activities to Avoid

Padya Paramita

Worst Extracurriculars for Medical School: Common Activities to Avoid

With 59% of all applicants rejected last year, the medical school admissions process is more intense than ever. As the landscape gets increasingly tough, it has become more and more challenging for students to stand out among the competition. Whether you’re still a pre-med student in college or taking a gap year before diving deep into the application process, you might be wondering how to make your profile unique in comparison to the thousands of other prospective medical students. While there definitely are extracurricular components which can boost your application, there are also certain activities which fall under the category of the worst extracurriculars for medical school

While the intent behind any activity in the medical field is hardly ever negative, admissions committees at top programs appreciate candidates who have proven their leadership qualities and continually shown commitment to a future profession in medicine. Most of the activities when preparing for MD applications do provide you with good hands-on experience, but some among them have just become way too common and don’t make a lasting impact on patients or other community members. Not only should your extracurriculars be unique to you, but they need to make sense alongside each other and give admissions officers a clear idea of your personality and interests. 

The following activities aren’t inherently bad, but there are ways you can make them more memorable. We’ve qualified them under the “worse extracurriculars for medical schoolbecause they are the most typical and won’t help you stand out from an admissions perspective. 

Pre-med student groups

Our list of the worst extracurriculars for medical school starts off with a baseline component that probably the vast majority of pre-med students participate in at some point. While a membership in pre-med groups such as AMSA and MAPS can help you meet like-minded peers and talk about your passion for medicine, it won’t help differentiate your profile. Admissions committees don’t want students who are only interested in a medical career simply on paper. You have to take action to demonstrate your commitment to the field. Unless you start a chapter of a pre-med society at your school or find other ways to express your leadership abilities within these organizations, general membership in a common pre-med student group won’t help your resumé stand out at all.

One-time volunteering

Medical schools look for candidates who are empathic, altruistic, and willing to help their community. Volunteering is an effective method of communicating to adcoms that you possess these qualities. However, you shouldn’t just volunteer with the Red Cross once and add it to your AMCAS activities list, because this will not impress admissions officers. Instead, they will get the impression that you participated just for the sake of a resumé boost.

Don’t just think about volunteering because you want to be associated with a renowned organization. Wanting to help out with the Red Cross is great, but you have to think critically about what you care about so that you’re likely to volunteer for a sustained period of time. In fact, don’t namedrop any initiative that you’ve volunteered with in your activities list or resumé without elaborating on the impact it has had on you and vice versa. When talking about why it has been meaningful to you, your passion should shine throughout your application. 

Service trips

Next we come to another volunteering-related addition to the list of worst extracurriculars for medical schools, and one that is common among a huge number of students. In most cases, service trips do not blow adcom members’ minds, as these ventures tend to last only a couple of weeks. Volunteering abroad is great, but only if your heart is really in it. Unless you’ve committed for a long period of time (say a year or two), you won’t appear as a standout applicant when your application is read alongside students who have spent their entire gap years abroad helping out with patients. 

Working in a lab as a technician

Students often turn to working in labs as a way of getting more directly involved in the field of medicine. While this will help you advance your skills, the role you have matters. If you’re a research assistant in a research lab that studies the human heart or mice brains, that’s great! It’s one thing to be a research assistant and get your name published in a journal, and another to be a lab technician. Working as a lab technician involves more passive work than that of a researcher or a researcher’s assistant - much of your duties would involve cleaning equipment, filling out forms, and re-shelving test tubes and beakers. You also have to think about the type of lab. Does it fit in with your interests and the rest of your application? If it’s a random lab that doesn’t really connect, it falls under the list of worst extracurriculars for medical school

Medical scribe

A lot of pre-med advisors recommend that students consider finding work as a medical scribe over the summer or during a gap year. So, you might be wondering why it’s fallen among the worst extracurriculars for medical school. Working as a scribe isn’t a bad thing. It is just far too common and will not help you get any kind of edge over the rest of the applicants. Your role would include taking notes during a patient interview, transferring the information to a medical chart, and assisting with the flow of patients. Medical scribes don’t have as much room to act as leaders – your time would be better spent in a pursuit where you played a more active role. 

Positions in other health-related settings

You might think that working in an optician’s or dentist’s office can boost your chances of getting into medical school by still being somewhat related. I would not recommend such jobs, as they fall among the worst extracurriculars for medical school if your main goal is to be a physician. You won’t gain a concrete idea of doctor-patient interactions in your intended profession and your experience would be subpar compared to students who have actually worked with doctors. Plus, admissions committee members might be confused as to why you’re applying for an MD or DO program if your primary extracurricular has been working as a dental assistant!

If your activities list includes one or more of the worst extracurriculars for medical school, you won’t appear as the most exceptional candidate. While there’s not bad activities per se, what matters is how you approach these worst activities. To make sure you bring your A-game, avoid these activities or approach them directly, and think about out-of-the-box ways to distinguish yourself from the very tough competition.

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