Medical school is one of the more challenging pursuits that anyone can undertake in their educational development. Between clinicals and the amount of studying required for exams, it always feels like there is little time for any other pursuits. However, integrating extracurricular activities is critical to your development as a student and medical professional. They provide you a challenge for reinforcing the lessons you learned in the classrooms as well as exposing you to different lifestyles, ideas, and philosophies that you are sure to encounter among your future patients or research.
In our recent podcast episode of Med School Minutes, our host Kaushik Guha, Executive Vice President of Saint James School of Medicine, had guests Dr. DeJuan Kinchelow, and Dr. Russel Heckburn. These gentlemen are currently working with the school in the capacity of the USMLE counselors. They both matched for residency in March 2022 and both used to be presidents of the Student Government Association of SJSM at different times. This episode went over what extracurricular activities each guest participated in during their medical school tenure and how they managed time between studying and these extra-curricular activities.
Start with Discipline and Structure
Residency and Medical School programs consider the critical skills of time management and personal structure in their candidates. When you can demonstrate your discipline for participating in an activity that holds your attention and has the form around it to reach a goal, you present yourself as a more rounded candidate capable of handling medical school requirements or a residency. This does not have to be hospital-related. For example, consider volunteering at a homeless shelter for a few hours every Sunday or even being a dog walker. The goal is to show you are engaged in a structured activity that you care about.
Don’t forget about your hobbies. Yes, you are pursuing a medical school degree, so anything that involves engaging with the community to build your interpersonal skills and communication is a plus. That same idea also applies to things like sports, cooking, music, art, and anything else you can engage a group of people in or seek a leadership position to stand out on an application.
You also have the option of participating in the Student Government Association (SGA). This doesn’t mean you have to be the President of the SGA, but some kind of involvement where you can showcase your skills will help. You are providing evidence of your abilities as a communicator who is willing to work in a group or team setting to support the larger community.
Start from the Ground Up
A good leader will have a macro view of any situation. That means you can see the issues from a 30,000-foot perspective. The only way to have the time or develop the skill to do this is by laying the essential groundwork first. You need to structure your days so that everything becomes second nature to you, so you have the freedom to focus on more critical issues, including extracurricular activities. A lot of medical schools will feature programs, clubs, sports, and associations that emphasize critical skills needed as a healthcare provider. If the school you are attending does not offer these kinds of opportunities, why not start one on your own? This shows that you are a leader by taking the initiative and creating opportunities for the candidates that follow in your footsteps.
Health fairs are a valuable tool in this regard. They help you develop clinical skills like taking blood pressure, listening to the heart and lungs, and communicating with the community. If you do not feel like you have the time commitment for clubs, seek out talks from leading professionals that frequently visit your school. The insight gained here will complement your education exceptionally well.
There are Always Ways to Improve
At the end of the day, you are seeking a unique experience at a medical school that leads to a lucrative and personally fulfilling career in medicine. Taking advantage of the different extracurricular activities available on your campus, even on the islands, presents more opportunities to grow and develop into a better medical professional.
You may be surprised to learn that many of the teachers, administrators, and organizers on campus will support your efforts because they can remember their time in college. They know the value of engaging in even a single extracurricular activity after school and the different relationships you can cultivate by having these outlets available. You will be put under a lot of stress, and it is important to learn how to alleviate the emotional, mental, and physical toll of college.
That same lesson lends itself well when you are practicing on your own. There will be days when you will have impossible cases or may lose a patient no matter how hard you try. Those days will need your past history of engaging in hobbies, sports, organizations, and other methods so you can recenter yourself and prepare for the next day when another patient will expect your full attention.
Where to Find More Information
The best place to locate teams and organizations at your local college will be through the student organization governing body. They will usually have a list of active clubs that you can check out.
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