Journaling and keeping track of your extracurricular activities as a premed is important so that you do not forget important details and interactions. The stories you journal can be used in many parts of your medical school application, including your personal statement, AMCAS work and activities descriptions, secondary essays and interviews.
Here are some tips when documenting your premed activities:
— Record all activities, jobs and awards.
— Write down leadership and initiatives.
— Detail stories.
— Reflect on your experiences.
Record All Activities, Jobs and Awards
Create one document or maintain one notebook where you record your activities, job experiences and awards in detail. At least twice a year, update the document to reflect what you have accomplished and any new activities you have undertaken. For example, if you organized an event for a school club, write it down. No activity is insignificant.
We are often asked by premeds whether nonclinical activities can be included in their med school applications. Absolutely! Popular nonclinical activities that premeds include are summer jobs, tutoring and part-time work in retail or restaurants.
Premeds frequently forget to write about scholarships and awards, including the selection criteria for winning and the selectivity; small research grants, including the amount of the grant; and research presentations given, including the number of people who attended.
Write Down Leadership and Initiatives
When filling out your medical school applications, it’s important to highlight leadership. Remember, leadership does not always come in the form of leadership position titles like president or founder. Times you took initiative count as leadership, too.
Examples of leadership to document are leading your own research project, creating and executing a new initiative, and spearheading a new event or program within an existing organization.
Stories bring your med school application essays to life. Medical school admissions officers can see you in action and get a glimpse of your compassion toward others.
Additionally, stories can detail how you tackled a problem or overcame a challenge. For instance, one premed wrote a story about how she overcame one step of her lab research experiment that failed multiple times. As readers, we were able to envision her resourcefulness, tenacity and critical thinking capabilities.
Ask these questions when considering which stories to document in your premed activities journal or notebook:
— What were the one or two most interesting interactions you had with individuals, including patients?
— Were there any doctors or mentors you met who inspired you? Why were they inspiring?
— What were challenges you faced and how did you tackle them?
— Were there times when you led a team? If so, what did you learn about leadership skills and working with others?
Reflect on Your Experiences
Reflecting on your activities and meaningful actions with others helps you grow. When reflecting on physician shadowing or clinical activities, premeds can discover what they like or don’t like about a specific medical specialty. Furthermore, reflections help premeds take a step back and think about health care issues more broadly, such as the social determinants of health and the disparities prevalent in our health care system.
When reflecting on your experiences, it is just as important to recognize what you are not as interested in as what you are interested in.
Here are some reflection points:
— Looking at the career of a specific physician, what aspects of his or her career do you want to incorporate into your future career? Are there any aspects in his or her career that you do not want in your future career?
— After observing a physician interacting with a patient, are there elements you observed during the physician-patient interaction that you want to emulate with your patients in the future?
— How can you improve the overall health care system?
— How can you grow from an experience as a teammate or leader?
— If a nonclinical activity, what did you learn from it that you can incorporate into medicine in the future?
Remember, documenting your premed activities does not require perfect grammar and complete sentences. Jotting down quick thoughts is good enough. Update your resume and document extracurricular activities in detail twice a year. Ideal times to do this are winter break and summer break.
Example of How to Document Premed Activity
Below is a hypothetical example of how to thoroughly document an activity.
Activity: Cervical cancer screening in rural Philippines.
What I Did/Leadership: Screened women for cervical cancer in rural Philippines using acetic acid.
I went on a weeklong service trip to a rural province in the Philippines. During the first 5 days, we learned about cervical cancer and how acetic acid can be applied to a woman’s cervix to screen them for pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions. During the weekend, we performed cervical cancer screenings on several women at the province’s community health center.
My first patient was memorable. I saw white lesions on my patient’s cervix, indicative of cancerous lesions. I was in disbelief and shock, because we only expected a small percentage of women to be positive. I also felt terrible for the patient because of her screening results. The possibility of her having cervical cancer worried me greatly. I spent a lot of time with the patient after my exam, holding her hand while she cried. I explained the next steps. She had not even heard what cervical cancer was and she was very scared. She had two small children and a husband who worked on a ship for more than half the year. We connected her to the closest hospital and one of the local physicians in our screening team offered to follow up with her in the future.
Low-cost prevention: I was amazed that something like acetic acid (similar to vinegar) could be used to screen patients for cervical cancer. The technology was simple and our diagnostic result was instant. Sometimes, in the U.S., we focus on technological advances to improve patient outcomes, but this experience reminded me that we don’t always need the most sophisticated technology to improve health. We didn’t need to send a pap smear to a lab and wait 3-5 days for results. I want to continue discovering low-cost prevention tools that can be used in rural and low-income communities to improve access to health care.
Career: There were several aspects of this program that I enjoyed and I want to bring to my future career: involvement with a public health program; initiatives to increase access for preventative health care services in low-resource settings; impact I can make on global health; education of patients about the importance of screening and preventable diseases.
Health education: I learned how to educate somebody about a disease they had no awareness or knowledge about. I saw the power of going out into underserved communities and educating individuals about their health. Tips for education — pictures are powerful. Always talk about WHY this disease and health interventions are important for the person’s life.
Telling somebody bad news: I wasn’t expecting to tell somebody bad news, especially my first patient. I learned that it’s important to listen. It’s important to provide hope and physical touch is powerful for comforting somebody. As a future physician, I want to not only provide the best medical care for my patients, but also connect them to helpful follow-up care and specialists.
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