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Balancing Extracurricular Activities

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Research, Passions, and keeping on top of our academic journey

As medical students, we face an impetus to participate in activities outside of our scheduled curricula. Whether these activities strengthen your CV or bring you happiness, it can be overwhelming to balance these with the demands of medical school. This essay discusses what activities you can pursue and the importance of prioritizing your wellness. What types of activities are medical students generally involved in? Students may assist with or lead research projects, volunteer in their communities, participate in advocacy efforts, or hold leadership positions in local, regional, or national medical organizations. Others invest time in hobbies such as music, writing, weightlifting, running, or yoga. The possibilities are endless. These activities increase student exposure to important aspects of becoming physicians and may boost their applications for residency programs. Without a doubt, students should be involved in activities that excite them. When you are excited about something, your efforts will be enjoyable, and your outcomes will be fruitful. This is not to say extracurricular activities do not require hard work and dedication, but they should add to who you are. Residency programs want to know why you did certain activities and would love to see that you truly enjoy them. In other words, do not join research projects or take on leadership roles to “check off a box.” Whatever you choose to do with your free time, limited as that may be, make sure that it excites you and that you can demonstrate how much it has added to the person you have become.

 

 

Much of what you do in medical school will depend on the specialty or type of specialty you plan to pursue. Surgical specialties, which tend to be more competitive to match into due to the limited number of residency spots and the demanding nature of their programs, typically require involvement in research projects, ideally with publications ranging from poster presentation abstracts to full-length articles in reputable journals. Local or national leadership positions in surgical organizations supplement a surgery application by demonstrating leadership skills and a desire to stay up to date on the latest surgical advancements. For those pursuing primary care, advocacy work and consistent community service are fantastic options for understanding the needs of your patients. Always seek advice regarding extracurricular involvement from your school’s academic advisors, trusted mentors, and peers who understand the residency application process.

 

 

While the activities discussed above are beneficial, these should not interfere with school and personal wellness. The thought of saying no to an opportunity is daunting but may be necessary. Medical school is an immense workload. Adding to this workload requires meaningful consideration and results in a delicate balance. One piece of advice is to plan how a new responsibility would fit into your weekly schedule before giving a definitive answer. If you are having trouble managing a position you already hold, communicate this. Mentors and fellow students almost always understand that school and personal wellness are priorities.

 

 

Despite pouring long hours into studying and sacrificing time with loved ones, medical students should prioritize their wellness and values. Making time for what brings joy is essential for success. What brings you joy? Only you can answer, but we should all prioritize exercise, a balanced diet, mindfulness, and spending time with friends and family. This makes for a sustainable work life and may prevent burnout. Remember, caring for yourself is a vital first step to caring for others.

 

 

Medical school is an arduous undertaking. Here, students develop into professional physicians, and this development is largely influenced by what you do beyond the classroom. It is challenging and time-consuming but certainly manageable when you prioritize your needs and understand your abilities and limitations. Be honest and remember how many students have survived the journey before you. Lean into this worthwhile and formative experience; you are on your way to becoming an excellent physician and a more compassionate person!

Thank you to our Gold Sponsor

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Thank you to our Gold Sponsor

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Thank you to our Gold Sponsor

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Ashley Cantu-Weinstein

VP of Publication

Case Western Reserve University

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Keyla Payano

Committee Member

Albert Einstein College of Medicine Northeast

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