Preventative medicine is becoming a more common topic in healthcare today. As future physicians it is important to understand the rising healthcare costs and how it is impacting our medical economy. Simple daily changes by individuals can help curb these costs and improve overall health among our communities Regardless if you consider yourself a ‘health nut’ or not, it is important for you to understand that as a future doctor people will look to you for advice on health as soon as you begin your medical school journey. Start becoming an advocate now!
Straight from the Mayo Clinic, what may already seem like obvious to people in the premedical community exercise can
By Carleen Eaton, M.D.
After four years as a premedical student, you have racked up quite a list of academic awards, community service hours, club memberships and even a publication for which you proudly received seventeenth author credit. Then there are the various part time jobs you held during college and your participation in the intramural curling team, jujitsu training and trombone playing. The work/activities section of the AMCAS application is just the place for you to tout these endeavors and show the committee that your life is not comprised entirely of memorizing flashcards and regurgitating formulas (even if it feels that way sometimes).
Other than the personal statement, the Work/Activities Summary is the section of the primary application that requires the most writing. Your first mission is to determine which activities to include, and how many. Start by making a list of all of the jobs, volunteer work, honors, awards, extracurricular activities, clubs and hobbies that you have been involved in post high school. The limit is fifteen entries, so, if you are a “joiner” may need to pare the list down. Note, however, that not filling all of the spaces is perfectly okay. After all, two years in one research lab will only take up one entry, but is much more impressive than four months each in five different labs.
On the application, you will be asked to categorize each entry into an experience type, such as “Research/Lab” or “Paid Employment.” Use these categories as a guide for what to include on your list. If you have more than fifteen activities, keep in mind that clinical and research experience should take priority; however, aim for a mix of activities. The purpose of this section is to get to know you beyond your MCAT score and GPA. If you have spent years doing sculpture or sports, for example, include those interests. The fact that one of the classifications is “Extracurricular/Hobbies/Avocations” indicates that the committee wants to know what it is you do in your spare time. Make sure you include paid employment even if it is unrelated to medicine. After all, spending hours of your time each week as a food server or retail worker means less time for you to devote to your studies and volunteering, which is important for the committee to know.
The next step is to compose a clear, concise description of each activity. You have up to 1325 characters to use for each entry but you do not need be to fill up all that space for every description. Some activities will take only a sentence or so to describe, while others will be difficult to summarize within the length limit. Give enough context so that the committee understands the nature of the activity. How large was the club of which you were president? What were your duties within this role? Significant accomplishments?
While you shouldn’t turn these descriptions into mini-personal statements, some reflection on what you learned/gained from your experience for certain entries, particularly those related to medicine, is appropriate. As with every part of the application, good writing and meticulous proofreading are essential.
With this section complete and the personal statement done, you are well on your way to finishing the AMCAS application. The rest of the application is primarily data entry and not as taxing as composing sharp prose and deciding which activity to use for that fifteenth spot.
By Carleen Eaton, M.D.
You’ve shadowed four physicians, volunteered in a hospital, a free clinic, a private practice and even got to observe in the OR a couple of times. Next on your list: research. It may not hold the same appeal for you as being in the hospital, but should you do it anyway? Or can you pass on this particular premed opportunity?
While research experience is not absolutely necessary in order to be a competitive applicant, it is a good idea and something the majority of applicant do. The problem is, while you love seeing patients and being in the midst of the excitement of the E.R. or the intensity of the O.R., you might be not be thrilled imagining yourself stuck in a lab for hours on end running gels and hoping for results. My advice - give it a try. With your own project, an interesting topic and a bit of luck you can develop a sense of ownership and enthusiasm that will carry you through the drudgery and into the excitement of actual results.
Finding a lab to work in usually isn’t too difficult if you are willing to volunteer. Labs are often happy to have some extra help. If there is a class you enjoyed, talk to the professor, or go to the department you are interested in and ask if there any labs taking undergraduate volunteers. You can also look for paid work as a lab assistant, and while you may start out washing glassware and stocking reagents, if you are eager and interested, you are in the right place to have a chance to do some research as either part of your job or after hours on a volunteer basis.
Also, remember, that “research” is a very broad term. Bench research is great, but if you really don’t think it’s your thing, get involved in a clinical study instead. Your duties could include recruiting or interviewing patients or analyzing the data after it is gathered. These studies have the direct clinical relevance and patient contact that some premedical students find more appealing than basic research.
Since research, by its nature, takes time and consistency, one year on a single project is more valuable than three months each spent in four different labs. If you find something that you can delve into, then poster presentations, conferences and even publications can result. These are rewarding and certainly an asset to your application.
Besides broadening your application, a glimpse into the world of research will give you a perspective into how medical advances are made. This is good knowledge to have since you will eventually be the one prescribing these newly discovered medications and treatments as a physician. So, look up the professor from last semester who gave the intriguing lecture on the virulence factors of Bordetella pertussis and see if you can get a chance to get your hands on some beakers and Bunsen burners.
By Carleen Eaton, M.D.
“Describe your clinical experiences.” This seemingly innocuous statement appears everywhere during the application process, from secondary applications to interviews. After some thought, you recall the time that you broke your toe and spent twelve hours waiting in the E.R. Being highly observant, you perked up every time someone in scrubs walked by, thus turning your tenure as a patient into a stealth physician shadowing experience. Good enough? Not quite. Even if your application is packed with community service volunteering, research papers and A’s, you still need to show that you have been immersed in the clinical environment and emerged with a clear idea of what a physician’s job actually entails.
There are endless ways to gain such experience; however, I sometimes hear from applicants that they volunteered only briefly because, far from the glamorous goings-on they imagined, they were limited to delivering meals, stocking supply cabinets and doing paperwork. The reality is, many volunteer positions don’t involve constant hands-on patient care, yet that doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable
First, simply spending time in a hospital, clinic or physician’s office gives you crucial information. You learn the sights, sounds and yes, even the unique smells, of the hospital. You find out if you flourish in an intense, busy environment, which is important, since that is where you will be spending most of your days, and many of your nights, during the coming years. As a volunteer, you will frequently be interacting with members of the healthcare team such as R.N.s, occupational therapists and nurse assistants. From this, you can learn what each of their roles is and understand the broader picture of how patient care is provided. And when that interaction with a physician does come along, it might lead to a conversation in which you reveal that you are a premedical student who would love the chance to shadow a doctor. After all, as a hospital volunteer, you are in a building full of physicians; take the initiative and turn the days delivering flowers into nights spent watching an E.R. doctor in action.
You can greatly increase your level of responsibility and patient contact by investing some time into obtaining a certification. As a trained EMT, phlebotomist, medical translator or even a nurse assistant, you will have the skills to work more directly with patients. With such certification, you can find either paid or volunteer positions transporting patients, drawing specimens or performing basic patient care.
Finding your niche means getting out there and looking for opportunities. Try your local community hospital, clinics or family physician for shadowing, employment or volunteer work in a clinical setting. Each experience will add to your knowledge about the medical profession, your understanding of your own career goals and the committee’s confidence that you really want to become a physician.
By Carleen Eaton, M.D.
The life of a premedical student is a hectic one. At the same time that you are juggling a full load of science courses and squeezing in some passages to prep for the MCAT, you are trying to fit in research, clinical experiences, volunteer work and memberships to various clubs and organizations. But do you really have to be a twice published, Flemish-speaking, member of the Molecular Biology Club who also happens to play the harp and has volunteered in five hospitals, three homeless shelters and patented an invention or two on the side to be admitted to med school? Actually, no. However, it will help your cause to have some well-developed interests and a list of activities that shows depth in your pursuits.
To understand the view of admissions committees, you need to first understand what is meant by a “diverse class.” This means that when taken together, the individuals who comprise the class represent a broad range of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences, which makes for a dynamic and interesting group. One student may have extensive research experience, while someone else has spent the past four years as a member of their university’s diving team and yet another has been very active in student government. This does not mean that the research guy is also expected to have been a star athlete, president of the student body and speak four languages. The question to ask is “What can I contribute to the group as a whole?”
This knowledge frees you up to pick a couple of interests and pursue them, without feeling as though you have to dabble in everything. There are fifteen spaces on the “work/activities” section on the AMCAS application, but that does not mean that you have to fill them all. Quality is truly what counts. A single entry may describe a two year research project and will be given more weight than five entries listing memberships in random clubs that you just showed up for an occasional meeting with.
One caveat is that clinical experience is a must. Committees want to know that you have thoroughly investigated the medical profession and know what you are in for before starting the 7+ year journey to become a practicing physician. Therefore, volunteering and physician shadowing should be part of your experiences since no amount of bench research, fund-raising for your favorite charity or tutoring disadvantaged kids will give you the insight into what it means to be a physician.
With this in mind, when confronted by the huge array of choices at your school and in your community, you can try a few and then stick with those that you really like. This may mean that you won’t fill up all the spots on the activities section of the application, and you probably won’t learn Flemish, but you will get to spend time doing the things you enjoy and developing some interests that show the committee who you really are and why they should offer you a spot in the class.
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