Applying to medical school? Get a leg up during your winter break by following this advice from the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC):
 
1. Seek out holiday volunteer opportunities. The Holiday Project, for example, organizes visits to senior centers, nursing homes, hospices, and even hospitals around the United States. Their goal? Bring the holiday spirit to individuals who might otherwise not have a celebration. Your local United Way can also provide a list of nearby homeless shelters and soup kitchens that may need extra help over the holidays. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that you’re interested in and passionate about. 

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2. Get exposure in a clinical setting. Volunteer work of any kind is important but doing so in a clinical setting is particularly noteworthy. It doesn’t matter how strong your grades are or how high your test scores are if you can’t show the ability to connect with others on a fundamental level.

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3. Travel abroad on a medical mission trip. Depending on your flexibility and resources, look at volunteer opportunities outside of the country. Organizations like International Medical Relief, GO Overseas, and International Volunteer HQ host 1-to-4 week trips designed for medical professionals and students, as well as non-medical volunteers. Gain experience, learn new skills, network with physicians abroad, and put yourself in a situation outside of your comfort zone.
 
Not ready to pack your bags just yet? Utilize the holiday time to research summer trips or alternative spring break programs.
 
4. Study for the MCAT. Whether you’re taking the MCAT for the first time or preparing for your second or third attempt, set aside time to study every day. Map out a schedule to help manage your time and use online resources—practice questions, interactive videos, discussion forums—to familiarize yourself with the MCAT format.

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5. Connect with a healthcare provider. Ask friends and family to introduce you to a local healthcare provider. Talking with established medical professionals can help you think about your own plans and the fields or specialty areas within medicine that interest you. Once you’ve developed a rapport, ask about shadowing or even helping with a research project—ideally one that has the potential for publication.
 
If you don’t have any connections, email your local AUC admissions director for help. We have a network of more than 6,000 alumni—many of whom are happy to talk with prospective students about a career in medicine.
 
6. Touch base with your references—new or old. Who will write you a stellar letter of recommendation (LOR)? Think about professors, employers, or project supervisors who can speak about your character, academic acumen, and potential as a medical student. The holidays can be an appropriate time to initiate LOR discussions or check back with references who are in the process of writing a letter. Try to find time to meet in-person and provide a bulleted list of recent accomplishments or activities.

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7. Update and refine your personal statement. Dust off your personal statement—it’s time for a thorough update to reflect your recent activities and achievements. Personal statements should be written from the heart and focus on a deep narrative. If you’ve got a blemish on your academic record, use the statement to explain what happened and how you’ve evolved and better prepared yourself for medical school.

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8. Get your standard application documents in order. Coordinating background checks and ordering transcripts may sound easy but these processes can take more time than expected. Obtaining a background check from your local police department, for example, can take 2 to 4 weeks. Get the ball rolling now so these important documents don’t hold you back once you’re ready to apply.
 
9. Practice your interview skills. If you’re spending the holidays with family and friends, ask for volunteers to role play a mock medical school interview. Practice your introduction, talking points and timing, and get more comfortable fielding questions from different people. After each interview, ask for constructive criticism.
 
10. Get caught up on current events. A simple but often overlooked activity?

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11. Do your research on what you are looking for in a medical school. Ask yourself what’s important to you: small class sizes, a collaborative atmosphere, diversified clinical experiences, strong research opportunities? Spend time researching what schools can deliver that experience. Look at a school’s website, read their mission statement, see if they are connected to a community initiative or project, and read discussion forums to get other students’ perspectives.

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Shannon Toher

Posted December 22, 2016 09:05 AM

 

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