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Many students try to enhance their application by volunteering at a hospital. This is based on advice from some really well intentioned college professor who really doesn’t know that those things don’t enhance an application. They are cheap shots. They are blatant attempts to sort of say “I’m really interested,” “I was an orderly,” or “I was a candy striper, I volunteer here, I volunteered there.” The reason they are cheap shots is that those are not opportunities for you to excel. You want the committee to understand that you are an achiever; that you are diligent, hardworking, and that you’re willing to go the extra mile. Pushing gurneys in a hospital doesn’t qualify you to be a physician. And it doesn’t give you any insight either. In fact, if anything, it might be a negative. It might diffuse some of your desire to combat disease and help people’s lives, because the side of things that you might see in those types of jobs might not be the perspective that you yourself might have of the career. So I actually discourage this.
What I do encourage are meaningful activities and experience. If you want, go to a church mission in Nicaragua for 2 weeks. Deliver care down there. Put that I in your letter, “I was a participant at this mission for 2 weeks and I was struck by …” what ever struck you — if it did. Don’t put it down if it didn’t. What is important is real life experience, like working in a political campaign. How did it make you feel? what did you learn? Real life, deep experience shows that you are a complex individual (not superficial) and that you understand the depth of life — what it is to be a human being; that you can be sympathetic.
Once your application gets past the MCAT and GPA filters (see Preparing for Post-Graduate School), one of the things that admissions committees look at is your extracurricular experiences. What do you do when you are not in classes or studying? Do you loaf around and party in your free time or are you someone who dedicates your life to your passions? A good motto to have is "If I do something, I will excel in it."
What would be a good thing to dedicate yourself to? Anything that you really care about. Music, sports, community service, theater, clubs, the Cardinal Points, … what ever you have a passion for - do it and do it well. Excel in every area of your life and show desire and diligence. Distinguish yourself by dedication and hard work.
Volunteering in some medical environment (hospital, clinic, etc.) is good, but only if you are given the opportunity to shine. If you are just doing leg work, you are not going to impress anybody. Admissions committees see this as an insincere gesture — just putting in time so that you can put it on your resume'.
One excellent source of experience is in a summer research program at a medical school. Many schools offer these programs. I get quite a few offers across my desk and forward them throughout the year. Also, you can hunt for them on the net.
For more information about pre-health professions advisement at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact
Pre-Health Professions Advisory Committee Chairperson
Office: Hudson Hall 325
Phone: (518) 564-5160