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Extracurricular Activities For Medicine Applicants (13 Best Choices)

Extracurricular Activities For Medicine Applicants (13 Best Choices)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

When I was an aspiring medical student, I luckily all too well understood the importance of participating in various extracurricular activities to boost my application for medical school.

These activities not only helped me stand out from the crowd but also provided valuable experiences to develop essential skills for a career in medicine.

Without them, you’ll be stacking the odds against yourself in getting an offer for medicine.

In this article, I’m going to discuss the types of extracurricular activities that medical schools are looking for in applicants and why they matter.

I’m first going to look at what I actually mean by extracurricular activities and why medical schools value them, before diving into more detail on each activity that you could use to boost your application.

What Are Extracurricular Activities?

Extracurricular activities are essentially anything you can engage in outside of your academic studies, which allow you to develop crucial skills for your future career and demonstrate a passion for medicine.

Often, extracurricular activities revolve around helping others, working in teams, or developing leadership qualities.

Volunteering in a clinical setting, such as a hospital, hospice, or care home, could be considered one of the most important extracurricular activities you can do as a medical school applicant.

These experiences provide essential practical knowledge and a deeper understanding of the medical profession.

Although these sorts of experiences are undertaken outside of school and a standard academic setting, I’ve chosen to consider them separately in this article all about gathering medical work experience.

Here, I’m going to focus more on personal extracurricular activities unrelated to medicine.

These pursuits can help you showcase your interests, motivations, and broader personality, which can further appeal to admissions committees.

Why Are Extracurricular Activities Important For Medicine Applicants?

Extracurricular activities play a vital role in demonstrating your dedication to medicine as well as exhibiting essential non-cognitive skills and the emotional intelligence required to handle the rigours of medical school and beyond.

By taking part in a wide range of extracurricular activities, you can show medical schools that you possess diverse skills, well-rounded interests and are able to balance academics with other interests.

With a vast sea of people applying to medical school every year, you need to be able to differentiate yourself from the applicant who interviews directly before and after you.

With the standard of medicine applicants being so high these days, the vast majority of applicants are going to have at least 3 As predicted at A-level.

The vast majority of medicine applicants are going to have a strong selection of 9s, 8s and 7s at GCSE and the vast majority of applicants will have undertaken at least some form of work experience.

Where you can really stand out from the crowd is everything you do outside of the standard medicine application.

Playing in an orchestra as a medicine applicant

If you’re able to do all the above whilst also performing as a talented sportsperson or musician, you’re much more likely to be selected by a medical school compared to someone who only offers the bare minimum of academic requirements.

Additionally, these activities can help you develop essential skills such as teamwork, leadership, and communication, which are all crucial for a successful career in medicine.

What Extracurriculars Should You Do for Medicine?

Below, I’ve outlined several key areas where you can get involved to strengthen your application and provide valuable experiences.

There’s by no means one perfect combination of extracurricular activities that everyone should do.

There are also no activities that are objectively superior to others.

It’s less about what you’re physically doing and more about what you take away from your experiences and how they impact you as an individual.

Extracurricular Activities For Medicine Pixel Infographic

The medical schools don’t necessarily care about what your hobbies are, whether you’re an international rugby player or you enjoy underwater basket weaving in your spare time.

It’s how you talk about these activities in your personal statement and at your interview that is ultimately going to get you an offer.

That all being said, here are 11 extracurriculars that you can use for inspiration if you’re looking to beef up your medicine application.

Clinical Work Experience

While I did say clinical work experience wasn’t the focus of this article, it is just too important to miss off from a list of extracurricular activities.

The fact is that you do have to go out of your own way to arrange work experience to support your medicine application- valuable experiences won’t just be handed to you on a plate.

You have to spend your own free time volunteering, shadowing healthcare professionals or getting involved in community initiatives that help you develop the key qualities of a doctor.

I generally recommend applicants combine both a longer-term volunteering commitment with a few shorter clinical attachments.

As a rough rule of thumb, I’d aim for one week of shadowing in a hospital environment and one week of shadowing in the community (e.g. GP practice or community nurse).

Sports

Engaging in sports can show discipline, teamwork, and a commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Not only all that, but they’re great fun!

Going into year 11, I didn’t actually play a team sport. I’d played rugby in the past but due to an injury had dropped off the team and eventually stopped playing.

While my upcoming application to medical school certainly wasn’t my only motivating factor, I made a conscious decision to join my school’s hockey team.

At the time I swam for a local club, but team sports really do add another layer over and above individual sports.

Word to the wise is that they certainly give you a lot of material to talk about at a medicine interview when it comes to leadership, communication and working together with others towards a common goal!

By participating in sports, whether individual or team-based, you not only improve your physical fitness but will almost certainly give yourself an array of experiences to draw on throughout the application process.

Music

Sadly, I’m not in the least bit musical. However, I do have some very talented friends, a few of whom also applied to medical school with me.

Being involved in music, either through playing an instrument or singing in a choir, can demonstrate creativity and the ability to focus as well as allowing you to express yourself and blow off some steam.

Performing in concerts or competitions can also challenge you as an individual and provide memorable experiences that contribute to personal growth.

I’ll admit I do hold the prestigious award of grade 1 in piano but I’m not certain that made it onto my medicine application…

However, if you are far more talented than me and enjoy playing, whether that be alone or in an orchestra or band, I’d definitely include it in some form on your CV.

Official Programmes (E.g. Duke of Edinburgh)

Joining an official programme, like the Duke of Edinburgh Award, enables you to gain valuable life skills and demonstrate your dedication to personal development.

These programmes usually involve volunteering, physical activities, and skill development, which can further enhance your wellbeing and understanding of the needs of diverse communities.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award unfortunately wasn’t offered at my school so I never actually did it.

However, talking to friends who did, it certainly seems like something that could strengthen your application while at the same time being a great laugh.

Other programs and courses that I’d put in this category include the National Citizen Service or Scouts.

These more official organisations are great as they can provide you with direction as to what you need to do next to progress.

You also generally have a clear end goal with some sort of award you can work towards that will look great on your application.

Tutoring

Tutoring is a fantastic way to showcase your academic prowess while helping others.

By teaching a subject you excel in, you can earn a bit of pocket money while at the same time reinforcing your knowledge, enabling you to be better prepared for your own studies.

Teaching others how to do something is one of the best ways you can build on your communication skills.

Having to explain complicated concepts in an understandable way to someone who doesn’t understand the topic is incredibly relevant to the work of a doctor.

A medicine applicant tutoring students online

I frequently find myself having to explain side effects, symptoms, diseases and test results to patients who naturally don’t have the same background of medical knowledge as me.

Moreover, tutoring fosters empathy and leadership skills, vital qualities for a future medical professional.

To top it all off, there can definitely be some pretty good money in tutoring- whether you do it more formally through a tutoring service, or more as an informal agreement between you and a family friend say.

Hobbies

Having varied hobbies outside of medicine-related activities can illustrate a well-roundedness and passion for lifelong learning.

In my humble opinion, it’s incredibly important to invest time in hobbies that aren’t directly related to medicine, such as painting, photography or cooking.

This displays your unique interests and helps you maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Working in medicine can be highly stressful, so it’s incredibly valuable if you can get home after a busy shift and unwind by doing a hobby you enjoy.

Your Job

Although it might seem slightly strange, paid employment can sort of straddle the function of extracurricular activities when it comes to a medicine application.

I personally worked as a swimming teacher while at school, which was great to weave into interview answers about communication and tackling challenges.

Ideally, you’ll want to have some other extracurriculars in addition to a job, but you can learn a lot about dealing with the general public (as you will as a doctor) even from just a job in a corner shop, as an example.

Attend A Summer School

Attending a summer school or medicine-focused programme can provide valuable insights into the field and enhance your application at the same time.

Through such programmes, you can explore different medical disciplines, network with professionals, and gain practical experience in a clinical setting.

They generally run in the summertime, before application deadlines and exams really ramp up, and can act as a great springboard to start your medicine application journey.

Leadership Roles In The Community

Taking on leadership roles within my community demonstrates your commitment to making a difference and the ability to inspire others.

Opportunities to lead can be found in loads of different contexts such as student clubs, charity organisations, or volunteering events.

By leading initiatives that serve others or raise awareness about important issues, you showcase your dedication to the greater good and strengthen the skills necessary for a medical career.

Tips For Choosing Extracurriculars For Medical School

If you are thinking about picking up a few new extracurriculars to support your medicine application, here are a few tips to help you choose.

Prioritise Quality Over Quantity

When it comes to selecting the right extracurriculars for your medical school application, you need to focus on quality rather than quantity.

It’s not necessary for me to fill up every spare minute of your week with activities.

Instead, you should concentrate on a few meaningful activities that demonstrate your passion and commitment to medicine.

This approach can help you stand out among other applicants, as it will be evident that you chose quality over just how many organisations you could be accepted into.

Find Something You Genuinely Enjoy

It’s essential you select extracurricular activities that resonate with your interests and ambitions.

If you don’t enjoy something, it’s just going to be a real pain to keep it up.

Engaging in activities you genuinely enjoy will enable you to excel in these pursuits and show medical schools your authentic passion for them.

Your interviewers will immediately be able to tell whether you actually enjoy the things you’re talking about and selling as your ‘hobbies.’

Remember, the most impressive medical school applicants generally focus on fewer things but go into more depth with each one.

Find Multipurpose Activities

To make the most out of your extracurricular experiences and catch the attention of medical school admissions committees, you should look for activities that can serve you in more than one way.

One of the reasons why I said team sports are so great is because of the multitude of different angles you can use your experiences with them to support what you’re saying in an interview or in your personal statement.

If you’re tossing up between two different options and only have time for one, I’d choose the one that you think you could spin in a few different directions and that will allow you to develop more than one non-cognitive skill.

Mistakes To Avoid With Extracurricular Activities

While extracurricular activities will almost always do more good than harm to a candidate’s application, there are some common mistakes to do with them that I’d warn you against.

Doing Too Many

One common mistake students can make when choosing extracurricular activities is taking on too many.

It’s natural to want to give yourself the best possible chance of getting into medical school- so you just take on more and more extracurriculars.

While participating in numerous activities can initially seem impressive, it can lead to a lack of focus and commitment to individual pursuits.

I soon realised that having a few meaningful, dedicated experiences in my chosen activities was far more valuable than simply trying to fill my application with an extensive list.

For example, I initially joined several volunteering organisations but later decided to concentrate on just a care home, enabling me to display consistent dedication and progress within that specific community service.

Losing Focus From School Work

Another very common mistake is allowing your extracurricular activities to negatively impact your academic performance at school.

Balancing these activities with schoolwork can be challenging, but it’s crucial not to let them interfere with your studies.

After all, a strong academic record remains one of the most important factors for getting into medicine.

Creating a revision timetable

To manage my time effectively, I started creating a schedule that allocated separate time slots for school work and extracurricular activities.

This approach allowed me to maintain my academic performance (getting the 3As necessary to meet my offer) without limiting my involvement in meaningful pursuits outside of the classroom.

Clearly Just Doing Them For Your Application

The third mistake that can badly sting applicants is participating in extracurricular activities solely for the purpose of boosting their medical application.

Medical schools value genuine passion and commitment to your chosen activities and admissions staff can often tell when an applicant’s involvement is superficial.

To ensure that my activities were meaningful and truly aligned with my interests and goals, I tried to only select opportunities that I knew I’d both enjoy and genuinely get something out of- it’s why I definitely didn’t take the piano back up while I was applying… as I knew I’d be rubbish at it!

Unique Extracurricular Activities For Medical School

To be clear, it really doesn’t matter if your chosen extracurricular activities are unique or not.

You can be the thousandth violin player to apply to that medical school, but if your reflections on what you’ve learnt from pursuing music are of a higher quality than everybody else’s, you’ll get the offer rather than the nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine other candidates.

However, if you are looking for something slightly different that might make you stick out in an interviewer’s mind, here are a few unique extracurricular activities to get some creative ideas flowing:

  1. Medical mission trips: Participating in medical mission trips, especially to underserved communities or developing countries, showcases a commitment to global health and cultural competency. They can be expensive and are by no means a must, but if you get the opportunity to go on one I don’t think you’ll regret it.
  2. Medical journalism/blogging: Engaging in medical journalism or creating a healthcare-focused blog could be a unique way for you to demonstrate your ability to communicate complex medical concepts to a broader audience. It would showcase your writing skills, critical thinking, and ability to disseminate medical knowledge effectively.
  3. Research in non-traditional fields: Engaging in research beyond traditional laboratory settings, such as biomedical engineering, artificial intelligence in healthcare, or medical humanities, could be a great way to stand out from the ‘standard’ applicant.
  4. Improv/theatre: Participating in improv or theatre workshops can enhance communication skills, empathy, and the ability to handle difficult patient interactions. These activities demonstrate a creative approach to patient care and even an understanding of the importance of effective doctor-patient communication.

Remember, what matters most is not the specific extracurricular activity itself, but your ability to articulate the skills, lessons learned, and personal growth resulting from these experiences.

Extracurricular Activities FAQs

How many extracurricular activities should you do?

There is no hard and fast rule as to how many extracurricular activities a medicine applicant should undertake. However, as a rough rule of thumb one sport, one hobby and one community engagement activity should be more than enough for the majority of candidates.

Are extracurriculars important for Oxbridge?

Extracurricular activities are less important for Oxbridge medicine applicants compared to those to other medical schools. Oxbridge traditionally has a much larger focus on a student’s academics and is less worried about what they get up to in their spare time.

Can you get into medical school without extracurricular activities?

It is possible for a candidate to get into medical school without any extracurricular activities. However, there will normally need to be some sort of extenuating circumstances as to why the applicant was only able to focus on their school work and has no evidence of outside interests.

Final Thoughts

Participating in extracurricular activities is crucial for you as an aspiring medical student to enhance your application and stand out from the competition.

These activities provide valuable experiences and help develop essential skills for a career in medicine.

While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for choosing extracurricular activities, it’s important to prioritise quality over quantity and select activities that genuinely align with your interests and ambitions.

Ultimately, the impact of extracurricular activities lies not in the activities themselves, but in how you as an applicant reflect on your experiences and convey your passion and growth in your personal statement and interview.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.