Applying to medical school is just like a job application for a very busy company. Whether you realize it or not, you will have a very short amount of time to pitch yourself while the admissions officer is looking at your file specifically. The file reviews can be as short as two minutes in some cases. It goes without saying, but these two minutes can make or break you.
Prioritize your accomplishments
When first building your resume, it’s important to remember that prioritizing your accomplishments is key. Medical schools often look to build a diverse class of medical students, but that does not necessarily mean they are looking for diverse students. A very diverse class can be made up of very non-diverse students, so prioritize your accomplishments in a way that will make you stand out to the admissions officer.
Demonstrate the ability to multitask
Many schools like to see excellence in a particular activity, especially when it shows a high level of accomplishment. This demonstrates to the admissions officer that this accomplishment was achieved due to very hard work. An example of this can be sitting first chair in an orchestra, or playing a competitive college sport while maintaining your studies. Such efforts take a lot of additional time and hard work on top of your normal academic studies. Being able to excel in multiple areas shows admissions officers you have the ability to manage time, multi-task and excel.
With that being said, there can be some drawbacks when it comes to lack of authenticity within your accomplishments. Often to demonstrate worldliness and social responsibility, students will travel to third world countries to volunteer. Most admissions officers can tell if this was a genuine student-driven initiative, or something their parents decided would reflect well on an application. That is not to say all international volunteer work will be automatically discounted, as they can be phenomenal resume builders if completed with the right intentions. The same applies to completing specific medical research, which has become a common tact to making one more marketable. Well developed research that is completed to find a new specific medical finding can help you stand out during your few minutes, but generic studies with generic outcomes may do more harm than good.
It is most important to find projects, research and/or extracurriculars that truly fit your interests and personality. These genuine pursuits will stand out to your admissions officer more than anything else, especially if you can successfully demonstrate how meaningful they are to you.
Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss is the R. Scot Sellers Scholar of Hand Surgery; Chief of Hand Surgery; Vice Chairman & Professor, Brown University. He is the former Dean of Admissions at Brown University Medical School (2004-2012).