Besides course work, another consideration you need to make early is how you will demonstrate your interest in medicine and/or people. There are two major directions this can take.
- The best way is to obtain actual patient contact by volunteering your time in a health-related environment (hospital, emergency department, ambulance corps., neighborhood clinic, physician’s office, nursing home, etc.). Many medical schools require this experience. The idea here is to gain first-hand knowledge about what medicine really is like, as well as to show your own interest in the field and your concern for others.
- A second possibility is to volunteer in some other people-oriented environment (food bank, prison programs, homeless shelters, Boys or Girls Clubs, etc.). It is best to choose one, or at most, two things and show a continuing commitment to them rather than to accumulate a laundry list of minimal experiences. Hopefully, this will not be some contrived, mickey-mouse thing you do simply to “get into medical school”, but will be something meaningful to which you feel a true commitment. Medical school admissions officers are very wise, experienced people. They usually can tell the difference.
Note: The HPEC will not evaluate you until you have accrued a minimum of 50 volunteer hours. You will also be asked to obtain one letter of recommendation from someone knowledgeable about your volunteer experience as part of the evaluation process. it is also important to shadow several physicians, both allopathic and osteopathic, to have an understanding of practicing medicine. How do you know that you want to be a physician if you have not shadowed one to see what the profession is like?
In addition, many students elect to pursue scientific, laboratory research with a faculty member here or with a scientist at another school or in industry. Except for MD/PhD applicants who must do research, there is some question as to whether this is important for medical school acceptance. The most likely answer is that it depends upon the particular type of medical school to which you are applying. A research-oriented medical school (Duke, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, etc.) is more likely to give extra consideration to applicants who have this experience than are schools with a primary focus on training clinical practitioners (most osteopathic medical schools, for example). However, even here, there is a growing emphasis on research in a number of schools, so if you are at all inclined in this direction and have the opportunity, by all means try to participate in this. Visit UD’s Undergraduate Research Program website for more information.
Again, be sure why you are doing this. It is not likely to be a very successful experience for you or your faculty advisor if you actually dislike research but are simply trying to help yourself get accepted to medical school. You certainly do not want to do anything that would give you a negative recommendation. But more important, you will be missing the opportunity to use your time in other ways that might prove more meaningful in the long run.
Honors Degree and Degree with Distinction
For those truly interested in research, the University offers the Honors Degree and the Degree with Distinction, both of which require a research thesis. Obtaining one of these degrees clearly places the student in unique standing relative to other applicants.
Other worthwhile activities to consider include student teaching experience, academic tutoring, or pursuing course sequences that build on themes. Also, experience with problem-based learning is an excellent preparation for medical school, where many such courses are found. What is important is to show evidence of your academic depth and intellectual curiosity, desirable attributes for any medical student.