The 9 Best Extracurriculars for Medical School

Jul 27, 2023 12:15:00 PM | Pre-Med The 9 Best Extracurriculars for Medical School

When choosing extracurricular activities for your med school application, consider your passions, interests, and areas you want to grow as a future physician.

Standing out to admissions committees is every pre-med student’s intention. Extracurricular activities are a key part of making yourself stand out with your medical school application.

Your extracurriculars are a testament to your commitment, curiosity, and passion for the medical field. Thoughtful extracurriculars:

  • Look great on the activities section of your AMCAS application
  • Help you develop a well-rounded skill set
  • Provide valuable experiences that shape your medical career
  • Can even give you inspiration for why you want to pursue this field

What extracurriculars will help me get into medical school? When choosing extracurricular activities that will help you get into medical school, consider your interests and alignment in the medical field, the impact the experience has on your learning and personal growth, and opportunities for guidance and finding mentors in your selection. 

We’ll guide you through important extracurricular activities for aspiring medical students and provide insights on how they can prepare you for a career in medicine.

1. Local Volunteering

Engaging in community service and local volunteering gives you an opportunity to give back to the area you live in. The concern for other’s well-being is a large part of why people become doctors in the first place.

Volunteer work can range from serving at a homeless shelter to tutoring high school students. You should start volunteering as early as your first year of undergrad.  Candidates that want to stand out to medical school admissions committees complete over 100 service hours.

This also means you should focus on quality, long-term opportunities over an activity like being a soup kitchen volunteer for a day. 

Quality experiences offer pre-med students opportunities to develop personally and professionally, specifically in leadership skills, working in teams, and understanding the diverse needs of the community, all while making a real difference.

2. International Volunteering

Volunteering internationally presents a unique and memorable way to gain exposure to diverse healthcare systems and challenges. These experiences, like volunteering in local communities, demonstrate altruistic qualities, while also providing a global perspective on healthcare.

Volunteering internationally allows you to engage with cultures and health challenges outside of your own comfort zones. Depending on the volunteer program, volunteering overseas may also qualify as clinical experience. 

What’s more, if you volunteer with organizations such as Global Medical Brigades, your participation becomes a critical cog in a wheel for sustainable healthcare. Global Medical Brigades have year-round facilities to provide care to vulnerable populations.  

It's important to approach these experiences ethically and thoughtfully, prioritizing genuine contributions over gaining accolades for your med school application.

Learn about how we’re the largest student-led movement for global health.

3. Patient Care

Hands-on patient care is beneficial to developing your skills and shows admissions officers that you are committed to the medical path. Patient care is considered clinical experience.

To be competitive in the application process, aim for at least 200 hours of patient exposure. Patient care experience is a larger time commitment at times, and it can require additional certifications, but many times, they will help you zero in on your career path.

Examples of hands-on patient care opportunities include:

  • Global Medical Brigades Volunteer: When you volunteer with Global Medical Brigades, you’ll have an opportunity to work alongside medical professionals working in the community you visit. This shadowing will offer you a chance to not only see what it’s like to work with patients firsthand, but also the differences in healthcare around the world. (Bonus: If you become a chapter president, you’ll also get leadership experience and other benefits that bolster your med school application.)
  • Medical Scribe: As a medical scribe, you'll work alongside physicians, primarily in emergency departments but also in other settings. You'll be responsible for documenting patient encounters, which offers a firsthand view of patient care.
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT): EMTs provide immediate care to patients in emergency situations, which often involve life-saving procedures. This role offers an intense and valuable patient care experience and is perfect for students wanted to go further in emergency medicine. 
  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): CNAs often work in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and provide basic care to patients, such as assisting with daily activities and basic medical procedures. 
  • Phlebotomist: A phlebotomist's primary role is to draw blood from patients for laboratory testing. This role involves direct patient interaction and can provide a valuable experience in a hospital or clinic setting.
  • Physical Therapy Aid: Working as a physical therapy aide can provide excellent experience, particularly if you're interested in fields like sports medicine or orthopedics.
  • Patient Care Technician (PCT): PCTs work under the direct supervision of a nurse, providing care such as monitoring vital signs and assisting patients with activities of daily living.
  • Home Health Aide: Home health aides provide care in patients' homes, assisting with daily activities and basic health-related tasks.
  • Volunteer at a Hospice: Hospices offer end-of-life care to patients. Volunteering at a hospice is usually clinical volunteering because of the opportunity to interact with patients directly, providing companionship and support.

4. Physician Shadowing

Physician shadowing provides additional hours for clinical experience. The AAMC recommends shadowing to help narrow down with specialty is right for you. Each school of medicine will have a different number of hours of shadowing that they look for. 

It is also a good idea to shadow doctors in different specialties. You can observe different fields in the medical realm, ask questions, and connect with patients and practitioners. Shadowing allows you to hone in on the area of medicine that most interests you.

As telehealth continues to grow in popularity, virtual shadowing has also become an acceptable manner of physician shadowing. You should also have regular shadowing hours, but virtual shadowing gives you the ability to explore additional specialties in the comfort of your own home. 

Global Medical Brigades offers TeleBrigades for students who can’t travel, but have the time to volunteer from their homes.

Join a Telebrigade

5. Research

Medicine is fundamentally based on research. Your GPA and MCAT score show on paper how well you may understand medical knowledge, but medical research opportunities demonstrate that you can practice evidence-based medicine.

Research involvement, especially independent work outside the classroom, is very attractive to admissions officers. Research experience, be it in a lab or social sciences, displays curiosity, a desire for discovery, and problem-solving skills. 

Publication is not always required; the quality and depth of the research are what truly matter.

Students looking to find research opportunities should check with:

  • Their universities
  • Summer research programs
  • Hospital research assistant positions
  • Independent research projects (with the guidance of a professor)
  • Biotech or pharmaceutical companies
  • Local clinical trials

6. Leadership Opportunities

Leadership roles, whether within or outside the healthcare setting, are highly valued by admissions committees. Doctors must be able to lead teams and manage others.

Holding positions in student government, leading a club, or coordinating events at a local clinic can demonstrate your ability to handle responsibilities, your communication skills and teamwork, and organizational skills. 

Leadership is not just about titles. Informal roles can provide a platform to exhibit your leadership skills.

If you are looking for leadership opportunities that will strengthen your AMCAS Work and Activities section, consider becoming a Chapter President and starting a Global Medical Brigade at your university.

As a chapter president with Global Medical Brigades, you’ll gain not only leadership experience, but encounter volunteering, physician shadowing, patient care, too. Plus, it’s a great way to learn how to be a global citizen.

7. Healthcare-Related Internships

Healthcare-related internships provide a practical way for pre-med students to gain exposure to the medical field, learn more about patient care, and potentially confirm their interest in medicine. Interning gives real-life experience in the healthcare industry, letting you apply theoretical knowledge in practical settings.

The best internship is not necessarily the one that sounds most impressive, but the one that contributes to your personal and professional growth.

Here are several examples of healthcare-related internships:

  • Hospital or Clinic Internships: Many hospitals and clinics offer internships for pre-med students in various departments, such as emergency medicine, pediatrics, surgery, radiology, or administration.
  • Public Health Internships: These might be at a local health department, a nonprofit organization, a government agency like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Healthcare Consulting or Healthcare Administration Internships: For students interested in the business or management side of healthcare, these internships can provide valuable experience.
  • Health Policy Internships: These are typically offered by government agencies, think tanks, or advocacy organizations, and allow students to explore the intersection of policy and healthcare.
  • Internships with Health Insurance Companies: This can offer a unique perspective on the healthcare system, with insight into the intricacies of health insurance and policy.

8. Teaching Assistant/Tutoring

Becoming a teaching assistant or tutor can help you firm up your mastery in a subject, work on communication skills, and help others. Besides boosting your own understanding of the topic, it reflects your ability to break down complex topics and convey them clearly. This manner of communication is an essential skill for future physicians.

9. Hobbies

Including hobbies in your extracurriculars highlights your individuality and interests beyond the medical field. Engaging in non-medical activities like playing a musical instrument, participating in sports, or painting can demonstrate your personality, talents, leadership abilities, and teamwork. 

You can also use your personal statement to connect your passions outside of the medical field to skills that will transfer into your future career.

How to Choose Extracurriculars During Pre-med

When picking extracurricular activities, think about where you want to be in your future career and what you hope to resolve or address in your patients. Choose activities that align with your interests and goals.

Depth and passion are more important than simply filling out your resume and application. Avoid overcommitment and focus on meaningful experiences that demonstrate dedication and personal growth.

We love this deep dive into the best extracurricular activities for pre-meds according to students, adcoms, and other medical school deans by MedSchoolCoach. If you're looking for what to choose that's right for you, check it out!

How much do medical schools care about extracurriculars? Extracurricular activities are a significant part of a medical school application. Extracurricular activities provide an opportunity to showcase a genuine interest in medicine and a commitment to serving others.

It's also worth noting that while extracurriculars are important for your medical school application, they are not the only factor admissions committees consider. Your test scores, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and interviews are equally crucial elements in the application process.



What extracurriculars will help me get into medical school?

Activities like volunteering, patient care, physician shadowing, research, leadership opportunities, healthcare-related internships, tutoring, and even personal hobbies can enhance your application and provide experiences that prepare you for a medical career.

How many extracurricular hours do I need for med school?

There's no definitive number of hours, but admissions committees value depth and sustained commitment. It's recommended to engage in over 100 hours of community service, 50 hours of patient care, and 25-50 hours of physician shadowing. If you take a gap year, you may be expected to have more in-depth extracurricular experiences. 

Do medical schools check extracurriculars?

While not all schools verify every detail, it's possible that admissions officers may want to discuss your activities during an interview. Always be prepared to discuss your experiences and their impact on your journey to medicine.

How many extracurriculars do you need to get into med school?

There is no ultimate guide to the number of extracurricular activities required to get into med school. The quality of the experiences and the impact you make is more important than the quantity of activities.

How many hours of shadowing do you need for med school?

The number of shadowing hours required can vary greatly between different medical schools. As a general guideline, 40-100 hours of physician shadowing can make your application stand out. This gives you a solid understanding of the daily life of a physician and displays your commitment to the medical profession.

When should I start shadowing a doctor for med school?

It's never too early to start gaining experience in the medical field, and shadowing is a great way to start. Many students begin shadowing during their undergraduate years, once they have decided to pursue a career in medicine. 

Starting early allows you more time to accumulate hours and experiences and can provide valuable insights to guide your pre-med journey. 

What extracurriculars are necessary for applicants to MD/PhD programs?

Applicants to MD/PhD programs are applying to be both a physician and a researcher. While all the above-mentioned extracurriculars are important, experience in research and clinical exposure show admissions committees that you are ready to dedicate yourself to this type of career. 

Join a Global Medical Brigade

Getting into medical school goes beyond strong grades and impressive MCAT scores. Participating in the right extracurricular activities showcases your passion, commitment, and suitability for the medical field. 

From local volunteering and patient care, to research and leadership roles, all these activities serve to develop your character, broaden your skill set, and deepen your understanding of the profession.

Gain valuable medical experience by joining a Global Medical Brigade. Partner with the work being done on the ground.

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Written By: Alexa