Your choice of extracurricular activities should be guided by your interests. Although it is important to demonstrate your interest in healthcare and clinical medicine through some of your activities, health professional schools are interested in well-rounded individuals with a variety of interests. So follow your heart and get involved in activities that you love. There is no need to strategize about what the "best" activities are: there is nothing intrinsically better about a cultural organization, a literary society, a dance troupe, or the soccer team.
Sustained engagement and demonstrated leadership in one or two things is more meaningful than membership in many groups. It is true that service activities that involve taking care of others in need are appealing to health professional schools, but so are activities that demand judgment, efficiency, organization, and team work. Do what suits you. You don't have to find all the right activities for you in your first year, but depth of involvement in an activity often leads to leadership opportunities, and this type of commitment is something that is valued by health professional schools. Finally, community involvement outside of Columbia is also something to consider. Healthcare is a service profession, and so demonstrating that you have a history of serving others can be important. Community work also can provide you with the opportunity to interact with people really different from yourself, an interpersonal skill that is crucial for healthcare providers.
Paid employment should also be viewed as an extracurricular activity. Health professional admissions deans recognize that many students must work in order to contribute to their college expenses and families. Although it would be a great learning experience to work in a medically related environment – a doctor's office, a hospital, a lab – this is not always possible. However, a great many non-medical jobs will help you develop preprofessional competencies that are important for a future career in healthcare such as responsibility, integrity, judgment, good humor, team work, and the ability to deal well with the public. All of these things and many more are of interest to medical schools. The point is to do whatever you are doing well and look for opportunities where you will grow and develop as an individual.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CLINICAL EXPERIENCE
There are two areas of extracurricular activity that are important for premeds: clinical exposure and research
Although there is a long-standing myth that students “must do research” to get accepted into medical school, clinical exposure is actually more important. Before applying to medical school, you must get experience in a clinical environment, that is, you must expose yourself to doctors, nurses, and patients at the site of healthcare delivery. There is very little in your premedical course work which actually prepares you for the difficult task of taking care of sick people. Many kind, compassionate, concerned, good-hearted individuals find that their own particular personality is not at all suited for medical care-taking. It is better to find that out before going to medical school rather than after! Clinical exposure will also help you to demonstrate your commitment and knowledge of the field of medicine, including both the rewards and challenges. There are a number of ways in which a Columbia student can acquire clinical exposure. Probably the most convenient because of proximity is volunteering at Mt. Sinai St. Luke's Hospital. It's close by, it's a teaching hospital, and the physicians and nurses there are accustomed to training prospective physicians at every stage of their education. It is however also possible to volunteer in a number of other healthcare delivery settings throughout the city and often near your own home in the summers. Please refer to our Opportunities list to search for opportunities for clinical exposure.
Regarding research, it is certainly true that participating in a research experience (whether bench or clinical) will help you to be a more literate reader of current biomedical research. But an outside lab experience is not absolutely required for entrance into medical school. Medical school admissions deans will often say that they like to see that applicants have “exposed themselves to some methodology for producing new knowledge.” They define this very broadly and thus it is not just limited to wet lab experience. A senior thesis in anthropology or a summer doing clinical research would fulfill this expectation as well as lab research. The exception here is the student who wishes to pursue a career in medical research and may even be applying for a combined MD/PhD degree. If these are your interests, you will not only want, but need, to get extensive experience in basic science research beyond that provided by your course work. Opportunities are legion, both in our own departments and uptown at the medical center (including those through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships), but also at many of the medical schools and research establishments throughout the city and around the nation. Please refer to our Opportunities list to search for the many summer research opportunities.
Premedical Related Student Organizations
This list is just a sampling – there are too many related organizations to list.
The American Medical Student Association is a premedical society at Columbia University. This student club is a great community of students who share an interest in attending medical school. They plan programs and different lectures that are of interest to its members.
Columbia University Association of Predental Students This organization is dedicated to bringing together our predental students. It conducts panel discussions and field trips related to dentistry and dental school application.
Columbia University Emergency Medical Service is a Division of Health Services at Columbia and the Department of Public Safety. It is a student operated, New York State certified, Basic Life Support (BLS) volunteer ambulance corps. CU EMS provides pre-hospital emergency medical care, free of charge, to Columbia University's Morningside Heights Campus and the surrounding area 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The corps has approximately 65 active members and responds to over 700 emergency calls per year. 24 CUSJ Columbia University Science Journal. Student led publication focused on undergraduate research.
CHARLES DREW PREMEDICAL SOCIETY
The Charles Drew Premedical Society was established in order to increase the number of minority students applying and entering into health professional schools. Charles Drew serves as a support group and a resource for all underrepresented premedical students in the Columbia community.
PEER HEALTH EXCHANGE
Peer Health Exchange recruits and trains students to teach health education in underresourced high schools in NYC. Volunteers teach twelve different workshops ranging from sexual health to substance abuse and nutrition. This is a great way to gain leadership experience and to impact the lives of young people.