Episode 16: What Extracurriculars Should I Be Doing?


Joni Krapec joins us to discuss the ins and outs of extracurricular activities.

If you have questions for us, please send them to pritzkerquestions@gmail.com.

[Music: Stephen Asma – Check It]


Episode 16 Transcript

Ben Ferguson: Hello everybody! Welcome to another episode of the Pritzker Podcast. I am joined once again by Joni Krapec. Hey Joni!

Joni Krapec: Hey Ben! How are you?

BF: Good. We’re continuing on this theme of shorter episodes and we have been taking a bunch of listener questions and trying to answer them one at a time. So I think we’ll jump into another one now. And this question is from a Canadian student who is quite young actually, but she wants to know what sort of extracurricular activities people tend to participate in, the number of extracurricular activities–I’ll just go through the question I guess. “I understand there’s no set number of activities and that there are many other factors that decide whether or not a student gains acceptance.” She wants to know sort of how her profile stands out among the rest of the applicants or potential applicants. So for example, she plays piano, she reads a lot, she volunteers a lot. She works as a swim instructor. And then she’s planning on doing some research as well. So can you talk a little bit about what people tend to do? Sort of the big areas that people tend to hit? And how the typical things that people talk about when you’re trying to get in medical school sort of rank against leisure hobbies or passions outside of the medical career?

JK: Sure, sure. Yeah, it is hard because there is not a set number of either experiences or hours committed to that experience that we look for in an application. Speaking very broadly, some of the themes that people are often involved with, certainly we need to understand why you need to be a doctor, why this is the field that you’re going into and why you know there is not another field that would better meet your goals and expectations and kind of match with your talents. So we do look to see that you’ve had experience in clinical settings. That can be shadowing in a hospital or private practice. It could mean volunteering in a clinical facility. Most people think about hospitals, which is great, but you could also volunteer at a hospice community. You could volunteer at a clinic or shelter for patients who may be suffering from HIV and AIDS, for example, or volunteering at some place like Planned Parenthood where you might be working with patients there. So we encourage people to think broadly about what those clinical experiences could be. We had students who are camp counselors at camps that might address kids with disabilities in terms of cancer treatment or kids who have physical disabilities–things along that nature are all great clinical experiences to have. And so we definitely look to see that there are some clinical experiences there.

We also look to see that you have a commitment to service. We hope that as a physician, part of the reason why you are getting into this field is because you have a desire to be of help to someone else. And so we look for those community service experiences, and whether that’s something that you do on campus–helping to run a student organization or maybe you work at homeless shelter nearby, maybe you volunteer as tutor or mentor for kids who are going to school nearby–those are all great service experiences to have and to kind of show not only that you have this kind of altruistic spirit and that you like to help other people, but it’s also really good to kind of be around people who are not exactly from your same background. And so, it’s always good to gain experiences both on campus and off campus that put you in touch with people who are unlike yourself because obviously, once you’re a physician, you’re going to treat any patient who walks through your door. And some of them may be very similar to you and some of them may not. So we look to see that service experience.

We do look to see leadership. Part of that is specific to Pritzker is because we do have a small class size and we have a lot of different student organizations. We have free clinics. We have a lot of involvement within our surrounding community. And so we look for leaders who will take on those projects while they are on medical school here and who will continue to be leaders as they go throughout their medical career. So that’s something we look for. And whether it’s a leader in terms of a title that you might have–maybe you were the fundraising chair of a fraternity or a sorority, maybe you were the captain of a varsity sport, maybe you were a resident assistant and were a leader among your peers–all of those things are good leadership experiences to get involved with.

And then another thing that we look for is research experience and that’s something that we define very broadly. A lot of students feel like they kind of need to do a summer or a semester in a basic science lab and that’s what you have to do to go to medical school. Certainly, if that’s something that you’re passionate about, absolutely do that. We tend to define research as anything you have question about. So if you would like to spend time thinking about clinical experiences and looking at clinical research projects, maybe you want to do some research that involves policy or public health or community involvement of some kind. That’s great too. Maybe you’re an English major and you want to do research about a certain author and how that author’s work has changed over several decades. That’s great. What we’re looking for is to see that you have a curiosity. Kind of this intellectual curiosity that drives you to explore something that you have an interest in.

Most of our students, if not all of our students, have also their own array of just personal interests and hobbies. For some people it’s music and they’re very dedicated, whether it’s through singing or through instrumental music. Some people are really involved in sports. Some people are really involved in–we actually have a student now who is a phenomenal horseback rider. It’s really just up to the individual person to explore those interests that they just find compelling and that are of interest to them. And oftentimes, those kind of hobbies get carried to medical school and are often used as both stress relief–I know a lot of people who run when they feel stressed. I’m unfortunately not one of them–

BF: Yeah. Me neither.

JK: I tend to eat and watch TV. But, so that it could be a great stress reliever. It could also be something that you know, you have as something to talk about to connect with your patient. So we’re definitely are interested to hear about a lot of your personal interests and hobbies that you have as well.

BF: Sure. So if I could summarize the take-home points here I guess there are four big areas. The first one–

JK: Knowing why you want to be a doctor, Ben!

BF: Well, yeah, that’s one of them. So you’ve got service, you’ve got leadership, you’ve got research, and then you’ve got sort of clinical experiences I guess. But I think the big take-home point is that you don’t necessarily have to do shadowing or basic science or biomedical science research. You don’t have to go volunteer somewhere necessarily. You can do any number of things that sort of fall into those categories as well as other life passions that you may have that can also contribute to your experience as a medical student. Is that fair to say?

JK: Yes. Absolutely. And I think it’s always important to know, I get the question “How much of this do I need to do?” And really to be honest, I don’t really like that question because when you say how much is enough, that kind of implies to me that you’re trying to do the minimum possible.

BF: Try to just conform to the rubric.

JK: Exactly. And we see very clearly when someone has done one semester of this, one semester of that, one summer of this. We look to see that you’ve explored things that are of interest to you but also that once you find those things that you are passionate about, that you’ve really lock in and pursue them. So having a couple of years experience where you volunteered in a certain capacity or where you’ve explored a certain public health issue or economic issue, whatever that might be. Medicine is certainly not a quick profession to get into or to stay in and so we’re looking to see that you have a commitment to sticking with something longer than just a couple of months.

BF: Right. Well, great. Thanks Joni. I think that answers the question pretty well.

JK: Sure. Thanks, Ben.

BF: Take care.

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