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The Ultimate Guide to Medical School Extracurriculars: Service

FIND OUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT FOR MEDICAL SCHOOL APPLICATIONS, HOW TO STAND OUT TO ADMISSIONS COMMITTEES, AND WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED TO DO TO BE COMPETITIVE

In this post of our medical school extracurricular guide we’re going to focus on community service.  If you haven’t already, check out the initial post for a broad overview of extracurricular activities and general advice for how to make any experience standout.

Community service is work done for the benefit of others without compensation, reward, or constraint.

WHY IS COMMUNITY SERVICE IMPORTANT TO MEDICAL SCHOOLS?

The field of medicine has long been closely aligned with serving the community.  Many people decide to go to medical school because they have a deep-seeded desire to help people.  In fact, many applicants find their calling to medicine through service activities.  

In addition, community service provides applicants an opportunity to go beyond their academic walls and understand their future patients’ communities.  Resources, both domestically and globally, are unequal.  Serving communities locally and abroad gives students exposure to limited resources, community needs, and vulnerable populations.  This exposure may result in the drive to actually participate in meaningful change, whether it be through advocacy, policy, or front-line work.  Service allows students the opportunity to reflect on difficult issues, both on an individual level and on a macro-level. Any well rounded medical school applicant should have some experience as a volunteer.  Note, these service experiences do not have to be related to medicine!

HOW MUCH SERVICE INVOLVEMENT DO I NEED?

The University of Utah School of Medicine has long provided recommendations for prospective applicants to better understand what medical schools are looking for in extracurriculars.  They recommend at least 36 hours within the last 4 years and 100 hours to be competitive.  We recommend a competitive applicant have completed at least 150 hours of service.  While it is good to have a variety of experiences and exposures, commitment to a specific activity over a long period of time is more valuable.  The opportunity to have a meaningful impact and increased responsibility are more likely with dedicated, sustained involvement.

EXAMPLES OF COMMUNITY SERVICE OPTIONS

The ideal volunteer activity for you is something that you are passionate about.  A genuine interest makes an activity easier to stick with, more enjoyable, and a better learning opportunity.  You don’t have to volunteer somewhere exotic and extremely far away if that’s not where your passions are. There are local service needs in every community. In fact, these mission trips can be costly to applicants and are definitely not expected.  

Volunteer opportunities and activities are endless in scope and nature.  Below is a completely non-exhaustive list of service opportunities just to give you a few ideas.  

  • Mentor students at need
  • Volunteer at nursing homes residents
  • Provide companionship at hospice facilities
  • Help your local soup kitchen
  • Work with your communities or dining halls to donate food to the homeless or food banks
  • Volunteer at your local hospital
  • Work with a mission-driven organization such as Best Buddies
  • Provide health screenings and resources to underserved medical communities
  • Serve as a patient advocate

Now, if you’re feeling inspired, check out the remainder of our extracurricular guide posts about research, leadership, clinical experience, and shadowing.