As explained briefly before, each applicant should (for his or her own edification) and must (for the purpose of being a strong candidate for admission) explore a variety of non-academic activities. It is through these activities that qualities related to leadership, communication, service, judgment, and maturity are developed and confirmed. There is no strict requirement described by medical schools, but success in coursework alone is generally not sufficient. Again, the focus should be on input to the career decision, not on the resume that will be presented. Efforts to pad a resume are generally quite transparent. If an experience isn’t valuable to you, it’s unlikely to appear valuable to an admission committee.
Athletics are generally neutral in the eyes of admission committees. They can present opportunities for leadership, and simultaneous success in sports and coursework implies valuable time-management skills. Most successful applicants have extracurricular activities beyond athletics, either during the school year or over summers and breaks.
Having at least one significant (2-4 weeks full-time) shadowing experience over Winter Study (see SPEC 19: Medical Apprenticeship), a college break, or a summer is an excellent way to confirm interest. In the absence of shadowing, an application can appear to be based on theoretical, as opposed to actual, interest in medicine. See the HP office for ideas about arranging such an opportunity for yourself.
There is no research requirement for medical schools. Of course, an interest in science is presumed, and many students do take that interest to the level of conducting research over the summer in a lab, or as an honors thesis on campus (or both). MD-PhD programs will expect their applicants to have significant, progressive research responsibilities. MD-only applicants should pursue research opportunities if they will do so with passion, not to pad a resume.
Taking opportunities to interact with people different than yourself is an excellent way to explore the social aspects of medical practice. We all like to think of doctors as compassionate, non-judgmental professionals, and these qualities may be developed through exposure to those who are of a different socio-economic or ethnic group. Local and regional service opportunities abound, and they need not be medically related in order to be significant in the exploration and application process.
The HP office works with the Center for Learning in Action to identify and cultivate experiences that will help undergraduates confirm their interest in service-oriented careers. Their site lists organizations and their primary contacts.
The most important criterion when choosing community service is your own interest. It is most meaningful when you allow your enthusiasm to be a guide.