Joining Student Organizations, Clubs, Fraternities, Sororities and Intramurals: Every college and university offers many different opportunities for students to get involved and interact with each other. These opportunities include Greek life, student government, intramural sports and a variety of others. When one senior at Michigan State was asked to name one opportunity he regretted not taking during his freshman year, he said, “I regret not joining any clubs…big time!” While I did not join any clubs or organizations during my first year, I did take the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and attend all of the orientations and events that the University set up specifically for freshmen and I was able to connect with some great organizations. During my sophomore year, I decided to join the MSU chapter of the Minority Association of Premedical Students (MAPS) and I really enjoyed the support that I felt and received being around others who were on the same path as me and upperclassmen who had taken the classes that I had to take. During my junior year, I became the chapter webmaster and I am now the President of the MSU chapter. I encourage you to attend all of the events that your university sets up for freshmen because they provide a ton of resources. I was very prepared and educated on the options and choices that I had when making my 4-year plan just by going to these events. It’s always better to have the information and not use it than to wish that you had it later. Julie and Lindsey Mayfield provide additional tips for getting involved in their “5 Reasons for Getting Involved in College—And How to Go About It” (http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/twice-the-college-advice/2011/09/13/5-reasons-for-getting-involved-in-college-and-how-to-go-about-it) post on the U.S. News and World Report. If you can’t find something at your campus that peaks your interest, you should be able to start your own registered student organization or club very easily. Another great experience is study abroad. I went to Tanzania for four weeks last summer and it arguably the best decision I’ve ever made because I learned so much about African culture. If you did not get a chance to see my reflection video, I would encourage you to watch it (http://www.diversemedicine.org/2015/07/08/what-are-you-doing-this-summer-kyle-is-studying-abroad-video/#sthash.Myczp7iy.dpbs).
Volunteering and Service Learning: In many states, the only way to volunteer at a hospital as a college student is through a college volunteer office. If you attend a community college, you may have to contact the volunteer office of the nearest public 4-year university for assistance. Volunteering will be crucial to your medical school application so it wouldn’t hurt to start accumulating your hours as soon as possible. It also helps you get exposed to different specialties and areas of the hospital so that you can find out if medicine is what you truly want to do with your life. There also opportunities to take on more responsibility such as becoming a student volunteer supervisor. During my time at MSU, I was able to volunteer at both Sparrow and McLaren Greater Lansing in family medicine, emergency medicine, radiology, same day surgery, and the post anesthesia care unit. In addition to volunteering, the same office will also be able to provide you with service learning opportunities with non-profit organizations, schools, health care facilities, government agencies, advocacy groups and alternative spring break and youth mentoring among others.
Additional Campus Resources: Use the learning resource centers and tutoring services at your campus. These are included in your tuition, so you should be utilizing the resources that you have paid for because they are designed to help you succeed. I also encourage you to attend the office hours of your professors and TAs even if you are not necessarily struggling or having issues in their class. You never know when a professor could provide you with a strong letter of recommendation.
A common misconception is that there is nothing available for pre-medical students at career or resource fairs, but this could not be further from the truth. I found the amazing internship that I completed two summers ago at the University of Michigan Health System at a campus career fair. Career fairs can also provide a lot of opportunities in fields such as research & development, health & wellness, law & government, working with plants & animals, sales & customer service, and the environment & sustainability. Many universities now have career fairs especially for biology and science students. And if you do not get into medical school right after undergrad, you can find great ways to make the most out of your gap year.
The biggest tip that I can give (and truly hope that you take from this blog) is to get up and use the resources that are available to you! These resources are your keys to success and admission into medical school. If you can’t find anything, search your school’s website or ask your classmates—step out of your comfort zone. Never be afraid to ask for help. Extra effort is always rewarded, and you will feel better knowing that you utilized every resource that was available to help you succeed.
Image Credit: http://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/images/hands-holding-letters-tips-500px.jpg