| | General Advice for Extracurriculars | | Biomedical Research | Volunteer Work and Service-Related Activities

General Advice for Extracurriculars

  • Your extracurricular experiences give you the opportunity to explore what a career in medicine will entail. The experiences can demonstrate to yourself and to the application review committee that you are truly committed to health, medicine, and science.
  • They are generally considered less important than grades and letters of recommendation.
  • Extracurricular opportunities are diverse, and there is no "magic formula" of experiences. You should pursue what you are most interested in and passionate about. Generally, the categories are people/service-oriented activities, such as shadowing and volunteer work, and research, which includes both clinical and basic science. It's nice to have both, but certainly not necessary.
  • Whether you are paid for your activity or do it as a volunteer does not matter. What does matter is how actively engaged you are in the activity. If doing something service-related, really meet and talk to people and patients, get to know your mentors and advisors, think deeply about your activity and what makes it fulfilling to you. If doing something research-related, do more than simply show up and wash test tubes: try to understand the science, ask good questions, take ownership of your activities. Remember, these are often the same experiences that you will write about in your application essays and talk about on your interviews, so it is to your advantage to pursue them to some level of depth and meaningfulness. A sustained effort over a long period of time may be more meaningful than several projects in which you were only superficially involved.
  • It's helpful to start early; you don’t want to seem as though you've rushed into a decision to pursue medicine.

Biomedical Research

  • There are many different types of biomedical research. This is a natural avenue to pursue for the many premedical students who are majoring in the sciences.
  • Biomedical research is typically divided into two different types:
    • Basic Science Research
      • Most common type of research which undergraduate premeds are involved in
      • Typically in a laboratory setting, working with cells, organisms, or animals. The boss of the lab is the Primary Investigator (PI) and he or she is the professor who is the intellectual leader of the lab and writes grants to bring in funding. He or she is typically not at the lab bench on a day-to-day basis. Rather, working under the professor and actually performing the experiments will typically be a variety of postdoctoral fellows or medical fellows (people who have finished their PhD or MD and residency but are not yet professors) as well as graduate students working on their PhD. Typically, as an undergraduate, you would work directly with a postdoctoral fellow on a project.
      • Does not have to be directly clinically applicable: the quality and depth of your project is more important
      • Sometimes, you can find paid positions as research assistants. You will typically be hired to help researchers do parts of their experiments, or as a laboratory technician to help prepare equipment and reagents, order supplies, etc. Being paid is great, but be sure that you can also have an intellectual involvement in the work as well, so that you can learn something more than how to clean instruments and follow recipes for reagent.
      • Summers are a good time to look for paid research opportunities, see list below for possibilities. If applying for a program, most have deadlines in January, February, or March.
    • Clinical Research
      • Can be quite difficult for most undergraduates to get involved in because it is hard to discover these opportunities
      • Type of work is very diverse, is usually a non-laboratory setting, although some projects will involve data collection in a clinical medical laboratory. Sometimes the work will be in a hospital setting. Typically doing research on humans. Examples include helping researchers run trials of new drugs or therapies, collecting and analyzing data on patients (such as taking their blood pressure, screening for cardiovascular disease, etc.), or studying/designing more effective healthcare delivery systems, especially in rural or inner cities

How to find and choose a research lab, project, and mentor

  • Sometimes, you just have to start emailing professors to ask whether they would be interested in a bright and enthusiastic mind and a cheap pair of hands to help with any project they are working on. You can start with CSUMB professors, or branch out to professors at nearby universities. Explain why you're interested in what they're working with, attach your CV. Mention that if they don't have any opportunities for you, then perhaps they might know of a colleague who would.
  • Don't be afraid to email a lot of people at once. It's good to have choices.
  • Be sure to meet with your potential mentor at least once to figure out what they might have in mind for you. Figure out what their lab is like, who you would be working with, and meet some of the members of their lab if you can. Try to judge how involved you would be in their research. Has he/she mentored other students before? If so, can you get in touch with them? The more involved your mentor wants you to be, the better. This can include presenting at lab meetings, and even potentially presenting posters at conferences or writing parts of publications as well. Try to get a sense of whether your potential mentor is interested or has time to mentor you, or whether they have a giant laboratory and can only devote a small amount of their attention to you. Sometimes, working in a small lab with an up-and-coming PI is better than being lost in the shuffle of a big lab with a more famous PI. Remember, this person may provide a key letter of recommendation for you, so the more they can get to know you, the better!
  • Meeting with a few different people is ideal so you can compare different types of research, different laboratory settings, and different PI's.
  • When just starting out as undergraduates, most people are very inexperienced as to different types of research. Don't write-off unfamiliar or esoteric scientific topics right away; often, a meaningful research experience is more about the people you work with than then topic you are working on. Go with where you "feel right" and can be comfortable.

List of Research Opportunities

Volunteer Work and Service-Related Activities

Guide to volunteering with list of local opportunities

Adapted from aspiringdocs.org and aamc.org

Medically Related Work Experience
The primary value of working in a hospital, doctor’s office, public health clinic or nursing home is to increase your exposure to the field and also help you decide whether to pursue a career in your desired health profession. Clinical experience is considered critical because health professions schools want to be certain that you have knowledge of the profession you are applying to. Direct clinical experiences are meaningful but are not the only way to expand your exposure to the health careers. Health education, clinical research and public health are also great opportunities to learn more about health professions.

Clinical exposure can be:
  • Shadowing
  • Volunteering
  • Being a health care provider
  • Health Education
  • Clinical Research
  • Health-related project
  • Medical mission
  • Volunteering at a nursing home

The key point is to show you are passionate about medicine and know what you're getting into.

Students who have shadowed health professionals show that they have taken the initiative to investigate their career choice and have spent time and effort learning about the career. It is also important to shadow one or two professionals on a regular basis so that they may become familiar with you and your career goals. These individuals are more likely to feel comfortable writing you a letter of recommendation if they have mentored you or allowed you to follow them on an ongoing basis. It would also be a good idea to journal your experiences while shadowing. Journaling provides an opportunity for you to document your experiences for future application materials and experiences that can be written about in your personal statement.

Shadowing Guidelines
Whether in a hospital, clinic, or physician’s practice, dress professionally. This means:
  1. Wear flat comfortable shoes, but avoid sandals and open-toe or athletic shoes.
  2. Avoid clothing that is revealing or exposes undergarments.
  3. Avoid excessive jewelry or fragrances.
  4. Do exactly what your preceptor or the staff asks you to do.
  5. Respect patient confidentiality and privacy. Do not talk about the patient or their information at any time.
  6. If at any time during a procedure you feel light-headed or dizzy, alert the physician and leave the patient’s room to sit down. Some students find it helpful to have a light snack prior to starting the clinical session.

Volunteering not only helps you decide whether medicine is the right field for you, it is also a way to provide service to the community. Medical school admissions guides strongly urge their applicants to have engaged in some kind of volunteer activity before applying to medical school. Volunteer activities do NOT need to be in the medical field. It is more important to show that you are dedicated and passionate for your activity and it conveys your commitment and integrity.

Extracurricular Opportunities in Monterey County
The following lists health-care related organizations that we have contacted and that can possibly serve as your service-learning curriculum requirement. We have included suggestions for your learning project that addresses the needs of each organization. As you come across more organizations please add to the list.

Dorothy’s Place and Chinatown/Soledad Street Renewal Project
  • Gathering program participant stories with a focus on health-care needs and experiences
  • Organize a healthy eating campaign: Dorothy’s Place received additional funding to provide more healthful meals.
  • Women Alive! Health Education Presentations
  • Direct Clinical Services
  • “Promotoras" Program

Planned Parenthood – MarMonte
Planned Parenthood has a clinic in Salinas, Seaside, Watsonville and Greenfield. The clinics provide both reproductive and general health services. There are numerous opportunities for long-term projects and direct clinical experiences for students.
  • Peer Health Educator
  • Clinic Volunteer/Intern
  • Focused Projects

RotaCare Clinic – Seaside, CA
RotaCare operates free clinics throughout the Bay Area and Monterey County providing quality healthcare for the uninsured. RotaCare’s mission statement is “To bring free medical care for relief of pain and suffering to those who have the most need and the least access to medical care.” The clinic is entirely volunteer driven and they are interested in having students participate. The clinic runs weekly on Wednesday evenings. Opportunities available include triage, intake and shadowing.

Girls’ Health in Girls’ Hands
This project was a girl-led action research project established to identify the health information, support and service needs of girls ages 11-18. The research found that girls need information and access to affordable support and services in order to have a healthy, well balanced life. Women’s Fund of Monterey County is using the research to implement health days for young girls. The organization is currently developing ‘Health Days’ for different service areas of Monterey County. Current needs include participant recruitment, community resources and searching for donations. Once the day comes closer to the ‘health day’ help with more specific tasks will be needed.

Other Service Learning Opportunities
We did not contact the following organizations but they are also a potential source for great service-learning opportunities for pre-med undergraduate students.

Alisal Family Health Center
Hartnell Summer Bridge Program/Mentorship Program with High School Students
SVMH Summer Bridge Program
Community Rural Health
Natividad Medical Center – shadowing opportunites
Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas

The document 'Service Learning Opportunities' posted below includes more detail and contact information for the organizations listed above.

More Volunteer Opportunities posted here:

Please add any additional opportunities that you come across