Let's chat about my experience and advice for filling out the AMCAS activity section! If you're reading this, you're probably getting ready to apply for medical school soon and working on your activity descriptions. Y'all applying to medical school is no joke! It takes a lot of preparation! When I was getting ready to apply I was all over the internet looking for help and examples on how to write my application, and that is why I am writing this blog today.
So without further ado, let's chat about the activity descriptions for your medical school application.
Getting Started...Doing Your Research
The first step to getting your medical school primary application ready is to learn about the process of filling out your AMCAS. I suggest reading through the application guide in it's entirety. Although this blog is focusing on the activity descriptions, make sure you do your research about sending your transcripts, your LORs, and inputting your coursework so you are able to do all of those steps correctly!
In the Work and Activity section you have up to 15 entries that you can make. You have 700 characters to describe those activities and you can select 3 activities to be designated as "most meaningful" and have an additional 1325 characters to explain why this activity is most meaningful to you.
I don't think there are any "rules" as to what kinds of activities you should include on your application, I think if it is important to you, who you are, and /or your journey to medicine then you should include it!
As you prepare for the application, I suggest taking some time to brainstorm what activities you will be including in your application.
To help, I've created this AMCAS Work and Activities Brainstorming tool:
In this template, I wrote out some questions to help you think about why each activity is important to you. By answering these questions it really helped me to write my activity descriptions so I suggest doing this activity before trying to dive in a craft a 700 character description.
Telling Your Story
Being on the other side of this whole application process the strongest takeaway I have is that it is so important to tell your story! I hear a lot of students talk about or ask for advice on how to "stand out" and I truly think that it should not be your goal, instead of trying to stand out try your best to tell your story in a way that truly is able to show who you are as a person.
My Activity Descriptions
Let's take a look at the descriptions of my application I submitted to medical schools. I divided these up by category so you can get inspiration as to how I wrote descriptions for research, leadership, teaching, clinical, community service and hobbies.
If you would like to see an overview of my entire application, check out my latest blog here:
Here is my description for my research experience at UM Scholars. This was also one of my most meaningful experiences. I use pink highlight for where I discuss impact and passion and yellow for how I discussed my role.
Experience Description (700 characters)
125 million women are at risk each year for placental malaria, a major cause of maternal and infant mortality in West Africa. Driven by these startling facts, I worked under the guidance of Dr. X to develop a research project which investigated vaccine targets for placental malaria. With my newly learned data analysis skills, I examined immune responses and determined the protein fragment with the greatest promise as a vaccine target. I took pride in contributing to research that could improve the lives of many. At the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to be the only undergraduate presentation at the 2020 Association of Academic Minority Physicians meeting.
For this description, I started by discussing the millions of women at risk for placental malaria each year because when I think about and discuss my research I always like to emphasize WHO my research is impacting. To me, research is a tool to create change and this is highlighted in the way I describe my research experiences. In the next sentences, I give a quick description of what my research project was. I then mentioned how I had the opportunity to present research because this was a pretty exciting opportunity and since this was my most meaningful I had the space to mention this. I wouldn't necessarly say you need to say where you presented your research at, in fact there is an activity label for presentations and posters, however I was already at the max 15 activities.
Now let's look at my most meaningful.
My days as a UM Scholars intern were jam-packed—and I loved every minute of it. I started my morning in the medical school lecture hall where I was exposed to various patient cases and groundbreaking biomedical lectures. In the immersive medical school campus, there was always something new to learn! In my lab, I enjoyed being challenged to pursue new research questions, working alongside passionate scientists and fellow students, and took a deep interest in learning about the clinical trials that occurred in Mali and Malawi. I was inspired by the physicians who dedicated their lives to eradicating malaria in Mali and Malawi communities and want to follow in their footsteps by dedicating my life to the improvement of health for others. In between my work I would enthusiastically sit in on attending meetings where I saw doctors discuss cases and work together to come to a diagnosis. The collaborative nature of medicine truly captivated me. I finished my day with shadowing, where I saw the results of the lectures, the research, and meetings: the creation of the best care possible for the patient. The UM Scholars program showed me that a career in medicine is intertwined with advocacy, research, and community outreach, all of which I aspire to do as a physician.
The goal of this space is to explain why this was most meaningful to me and so I talked about exactly that! I explained how not only was this a research experience but I was also able to sit in on lectures, shadow, learn about global health, and more. As I wrote this paragraph and as I read it over today months later I fee the enthusiasm that I had as a scholar on the medical school campus. Honestly, UM Scholars was a fundamental experience that solidified to me that I want to be a doctor, which is what I expressed in the final sentence. Truly this whole description came from the heart.
Now let's take a look at my description for my Gemstone research. I want to share that choosing which experiences are most meaningful is very difficult, for example Gemstone was an experience I had for all four years of college and this was very meaningful to me. I say, go with your gut as to which 3 experiences you really want to tell more stories about.
Let's take a read:
In the Gemstone Honors Program, a four-year research program, I worked on a team of eleven students to fully develop and defend our thesis. Our research focused on finding a novel therapeutic to treat allergies through inhibition of the mast cell degranulation pathway. I quickly learned that research is not a straightforward path and that each challenge presents an opportunity for me to grow as a researcher. I’ll always appreciate our weekly team meetings where I was able to work with my diverse team of peers to brainstorm new solutions and next steps for our project. Through the failures and the successes, I grew a passion for using research as a tool for societal change and health equity.
For this description, I briefly explained what the Gemstone program is and then what our research was about (yellow highlight). After that, I reflected on what about this experience really impacted me (pink highlight) and for me that was honestly the teamwork! Working on a team of eleven students for three and half years was an amazing experience that taught me a lot! And so I talked about how I loved our weekly team meetings. I also talked about facing challenges and failures, because our team had to make a complete switch of the project when COVID hit - this was something I was able to explain further in interviews. Another way this program impacted me was through exposing me to the power of research and it helped me develop a passion for using research for change and health equity...so that is exactly what I said!
I think this experience description was strong because it gives some insights into who I am based on how I explained what about the research impacted me. Instead of talking about the bench work or computational biology we did I chose to write about the team work, the resilience from going through the many challenges, and using research to create change.
Black Alliance Network
Gemstone Leadership Council
Here we have two of my leadership descriptions. I think that something that also helped my application be strong is that by reading through all my activities you really got a sense of who I am and what my passions are. This is NOT because I decided on a theme while writing or because I purposefully did certain activities to create a theme, but because I truly followed my passions throughout undergrad and then spoke honestly and passionately in my activity descriptions. So as we see above, I gave enough details to explain the role I played in the goals we had set.
Let's take a closer look:
Chair of Welcome Crew (Fall Welcome 18’ & 19’), Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Committee (09/20- 05/21), Vice President of Strategic Outreach (08/18 – 05/21)
The Gemstone Leadership Council consists of student leaders within the Gemstone Honors Program. My firm belief that every student should feel supported and included led me to become the first Vice-President of Strategic Outreach, where I focused on creating a support network for minority students. I started the “Black Big Little” program, which connects first-year students with upperclassmen mentors, held mixers for underrepresented students in the program, and founded the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Committee.
If you have a lot of roles in one organization as I did, you might struggle to decide what to write about. My one entry for Gemstone Leadership Council was combining many different roles into one short description. My welcome crew experience consisted of me planning and heading the Fall Welcome for freshmen. My Strategic Outreach role included overseeing out social media and helping with outreach events such as Giving Day - an annual fundraising event. I could really write essays about the various things I did within these roles....but I didn't have that kind of space! So I focused on the impact I was most proud of which was the diversity and inclusion work as Strategic Outreach VP and so I highlighted this in my application. Again we see how I described my roles in yellow and my impact in pink.
Tip: If you have a lot of leadership roles, you can just list them off like I did and then give a description.
Charles R Drew
Charles R Drew, or CRD for short, is one of my most meaningful experiences. Even now after graduation I continue to be passionate about the mission and continued to be involved by joining the SNMA. For my most meaningful experiences I tried to use the experience description to give some background to the role and then the most meaningful experience is to explain why this was so meaningful to me.
The Charles R Drew Pre-Health Society (CRD) exists to provide resources and a supportive environment to minority pre-health students. Serving on the Community Service Committee (18’), as Secretary (18’-19’), Vice-President (19’-20’), and Co-President (20’-21’) has allowed me to contribute towards the mission of diversifying medicine through organizing bi-weekly meetings, community service, workshops, and our annual Networking Event.
Sentence 1 and 2: In this first sentence I explained the mission (pink highlight) and then sentence two my role (yellow highlight), this gave some insight into what the organization is and gave people an overview of my roles.
My positions enabled me to enhance my problem-solving skills as I led my executive board through our first virtual year. Despite these challenges, my creative ideas led to record-high membership involvement from 50 to 100 students attending our meetings.
Sentence 3: Here I highlighted some of my impact by discussing how I have to be creative and problem-solving during the pandemic. I also included numbers because numbers really shows impact. I included this because I think it gives insight into who I am as a person, I preserve and show my dedication to the things I am passionate about.
Most meaningful (1325 characters)
As a first-generation college student, I felt lost on my pre-med journey - this was until I joined CRD where I was given guidance, support, and above all, community. I made it my mission to give back to this organization that helped me and increase the number of underrepresented students applying to medical school.
When someone asks me why CRD means so much to me, this is my answer! And so this is what I wrote!
I am most proud of how our community has strengthened under my leadership. I spearheaded new initiatives such as “Member Mondays” to highlight members’ achievements, developed creative ways to continue to connect with our members on social media such as takeovers from current medical students, and created a mentoring program that matches undergraduate students with medical school mentors. I planned and hosted the first annual Minority Women in Medicine Symposium, which featured ten distinguished minority women physicians and 70 student participants.
The next reason why CRD is meaningful to me is because of the community we fostered. Here I am highlighting my role in creating this community with some specific examples. I liked including these examples because I was proud of them and I think they showcased the impact I had. Show not tell always!
Under my leadership, I wanted to ensure that every member saw representation of themselves in medicine and felt that this organization supported them each step of the way - as it did for me.
I am excited to continue my passion for diversifying medicine as one of ten pre-medical students chosen to be a 2021-2022 SNMA National Leadership fellow.
Finally I wrapped it up by talking about what my mission was taking on this large leadership role. Being President was such a humbling and meaningful experience because it allowed me to give back. I then included my role as a SNMA fellow to show the longitudinal passion I have for this organization, from 2018 to 2022!
My tip as you write these is don't try to "sell yourself" too much, I didn't write these descriptions thinking "oh yeah let me tell them how I am problem solving because you have to problem solve in medicine". My only agenda while writing these was to honestly discuss the experiences and for me when I talk about my CRD experience I reflect on how it helped me to grow as a leader, how building community is important to me, how showcasing representation is important to me, and how passionate I am about diversifying medicine.
Teaching and Tutoring
Organic Chemistry Tutor and Biology Supplemental Lecturer
Here is again another example where I had to combine experiences in order to fit 15 experiences. In this entry I have my hours for my time being a supplemental lecturer for Biology and being an Orgo tutor.
Let's take a look at the description:
Passionate about helping other students achieve academic success, I became a supplemental instructor and tutor in the Academic Achievement Program, which provides support to students who are first-generation or low-income. My goal was to revisit concepts from lectures in a personalized and engaging way. With each student, I openly shared how I faced my own struggles when I took the course, along with study tips and encouragement. I learned that my vulnerability made a difference as it helped me to empower my students. I was most touched when my students told me they entered my session feeling as though the class was impossible but left with hope and optimism that they too could do well.
My roles as a tutor was really impactful to me because it was important to me to help other students be successful academically. In pink I highlighted the parts where I explained my passion, my passion for helping underrepresented students and fellow first-generation students is shown here again because I choose to tutor for this specific program. I then reflected on the experience and the ways I found were best to empower my students.
I chose to become an orgo tutor in particular because it is such a weed out class and I was so nervous going into the course because all you hear is "you're gonna get a C or fail." It was really important to me to not just tutor but pour in confidence and optimism into my students and letting them know that is is possible to do well.
I think something that I struggled with when initially writing these descriptions is that it is SO easy to want to explain WHAT I did and explain my roles. For example, here I combined two experiences and my supplemental instructor position required me to work with 2 students for the entire semester, I would attend each lecture and then create my lesson plan and grade them on assignments and taught twice a week. The tutoring was impactful in different ways as I tutored about 40 students in the semester, some students I saw often and some I only saw once. But I realized that it was more important for me to explain how overall the two experiences impacted me and what I learned from them than to use the space to describe my roles.
Gemstone Teaching Assistant
Here is another experience where I was actually combining multiple roles again, I was involved with the Gemstone 100 class as a TA, Steering Committee Member, and did work on the curriculum as well.
Let's take a closer look at the description:
“What will be the societal impact of your research?” I asked a class of ten first-year Gemstone Honor Program students. I had the privilege of leading the program’s introductory course where I served as a mentor and teacher. I entered the program with no prior research experience and was intimated, and this made me passionate to ensure that each of my students felt empowered to pursue the research questions they cared most about. As a steering committee member, I helped TA’s feel confident to lead their classes. I am most proud to have advocated for and helped develop changes to the curriculum to increase the focus on equity and the societal impact of each research project.
This was one of my favorite descriptions because I feel like I was able to say a lot about this impactful experience in a short space. In my brainstorming process I really just asked myself what was most impactful to me about this experience, and for my TA role in Gemstone it really was the experience of introducing the first year class to research and emphasizing how the basis of all that we do in Gemstone is to do research for societal good.
In yellow, you'll see how I encoperated my role as a mentor, teacher, and steering committee member which was a large leadership role in which I helped to run the class, train TA's and work on curriculum. But I was able to explain this without listing out all my duties - because that is boring to read!
Pregnancy Aid Center
Here we have one of my most meaningful clinical experiences: pregnancy aid center. For this experience I explained what the experience was for the experience description and then explained my most meaningful remarks by telling a story that was really impactful for me.
Experience Description (700 characters)
The Pregnancy Aid Center (PAC) is a non-profit women’s health clinic that primarily serves the uninsured and underinsured women of the College Park area. My time at PAC emphasized the socioeconomic and racial disparities within healthcare, as many of our patients were Latina, Black, or immigrants. As a volunteer, I helped to triage patients by greeting them, taking their blood pressure, and conducting pregnancy tests. During my time triaging patients, I interpreted for French-speaking patients and learned Spanish phrases to best engage with and welcome our patients to the clinic.
For the description I wanted to give background as to who we served at our clinical and then highlight what my role was.
Most meaningful (1325 characters)
At PAC I saw stark differences in the resources compared to clinics in affluent neighborhoods. I recognized that the hands-on clinical experiences that I received as a pre-med student were due to these disparities in care. With this realization of my own privilege, I aimed to give compassionate care and find ways to connect with each patient.
I want to highlight these first 3 sentences, this takeaway was very important for me to talk about because I reflected a lot on the disparities in care/resources between clinics that served wealthy/insured populations versus the underserved. And this was important for me to say here as well as explain and have full conversations about this in my interviews.
I’ll never forget my interactions with “Sherry.” I began asking the required questions prior to the physician visit to which she responded with one-word answers. As we spoke I noticed her West-Indian accent and shared that I too am from the Caribbean. As we connected over our shared experiences, Sherry went back to the questions I asked before and expanded on her answers, explaining how she worried about her physical exam results. I thanked her for sharing, empathized with her worries and took detailed notes on what she said to pass onto the physician. I have found that, especially in the Caribbean, there are many stigmas, fears, and misunderstandings when it comes to medicine. I understand that each patient’s relationship with medicine stems from personal experiences as well as the culture in which they are raised in. I learned to approach each patient with the aim to gain their trust and empower them by building their understanding of their own care.
This story was important for me to tell because while interacting with "Sherry" it made me reflect on my own family members. As I highlighted in pink, there are many many stigmas and fears about medicine that continue to prevail in the Caribbean and I have several personal stories that I was able to explain further in interviews. One of my goals is to focus on Caribbean health and to create initiatives to improve health back home in Saint Martin as well as the entire Caribbean as a whole. Another reason I told this story is because having a connection with the patient and helping her to be more comfortable was such a rewarding feeling. Those 1-1 interactions with patients is what confirmed to me that I wanted to become a doctor instead of the many other fields I could take in healthcare.
When writing my hospital volunteering essay, I again just reflected on the experience. This was really meaningful because it was my first exposure to medicine as I started volunteering in high school and made me think "hmm let me explore becoming a doctor."
Let's take a look at my short story:
The doors to the operating hall open. As the patient is being wheeled in, I quickly make my way to grab two blankets out of the warmer and cover the patient with them. In the Post Anesthesia Care Unit, providing care and comfort was my goal as patients woke up from surgery cold and often confused. My favorite moment was when the anesthesia wore off, and I was able to greet each patient with a smile and ask them if they wanted any water or ice chips. I loved that no matter if the patient was a seven-year-old or a seventy-year-old, we were able to form connections. I enjoyed stepping in wherever I could and being a part of the team as the health care workers provided care for each patient.
If I would have wrote about what I did my description would have been something like "I helped the nurses and doctors, I provided ice chips, water, and blankets to patients. I transported patients and brought family members in to see them." and so on. Anyone can write that but by reflecting and talking about the experience and what it meant to be I believe I was able to show why I loved it and why it impacted me.
Honors, Awards, and Recognitions
For my honors and awards here is how I wrote it. I gave it 0 hours because it is not something I actually spent time doing. And then I just listed out the awards and gave a small description to explain what the award was.
Habitat for Humanity
For this experience, I reflected on what I learned during my hours building houses for habitat. I truly enjoyed being able to volunteer in my community and unfortunately had to pause due to the pandemic, but the two trips I did was really meaningful.
Here is what I reflected on:
I have planned two service trips for my pre-health student organization with the Habitat for Humanity, Susquehanna Chapter. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity taught me not only how to patch a hole in a wall but also the lesson about giving a “hand up - not a handout”—meaning to empower others for a more sustainable future by addressing underlying issues, such as a need for education or other services. This motto was personified through all the activities we did as we were encouraged to empathize with those in our community, putting ourselves in their shoes, rather than to pity them. These lessons stuck with me as I worked to build the needed affordable housing in my community.
Gemstone Terps for St. Martin
Did I mention that Gemstone was a huge part of my undergrad? It was a research program but was really so much more than that, as a living learning program I received support as I'll explain with this story, conducted research, taught and developed curriculum, and had various leadership roles for a total of four activity entries. This experience is very meaningful because it was one of the hardest and traumatic moments I went through and explains how I received support to help my island in a time of need.
Let's read it:
A few weeks into my first semester of college, the unthinkable happened: Hurricane Irma, a category five hurricane, damaged over 90% of buildings on my home island of St. Martin. In my island’s time of need, I rallied my honors program’s peers together and led an international clothing and item drive. My role was to coordinate transport and collaborate with non-profits on St. Martin. We collected and shipped over 500 items, including clothing, toiletries, batteries, baby diapers, and more. I saw the power of bringing people together for a shared cause and forever have immense gratitude to my peers who donated and showed me support in one of my most challenging moments.
In this story, I told the readers what happened with the descriptions of category 5 hurricane and damaging 90% of buildings to give context as to how severe this hurricane was. I then talked about the items we were able to ship. And most importantly I shared about how this impacted me by having people donate and show support! It taught me that I can help my island even from miles away!
For shadowing experiences, I simply listed out the speciality and doctor who I shadowed with. I also included virtual shadowing hours and prospective hours during my gap year job. With the space I had left I included a little reflection on what I learned by shadowing.
Who is Kyeisha without Style by Kye!? I knew I had to include my blog on my application because it is one of my most longstanding hobbies and something I love so much.
Let's read about how I wrote about blogging:
I started my blog, entitled Style by Kye, in 2015 simply to share my love for fashion; however, it quickly grew into much more. Today, my blog tells my story as a first-generation pre-medical student. It provides motivation and inspiration to other students as I share resources such as study guides and transparency of my journey, with some outfit ideas along the way. I also launched a business selling self-designed digital planners to help students stay organized while in college. My brand has allowed me to creatively express myself through graphic design, video editing, creative writing, and social media management.
My blog was mentioned in every. single. medical school interview I had! In this description I gave the story about my blog and the topics that I write about from fashion to also sharing resources. I then included how this is a platform for me to express myself and how sharing my story has been able to inspire others - which means everything to me!
If you read back through my activities you'll notice one main thing I did NOT do. I did not try to connect my activities to medicine and try to say how each experience would make me a good doctor. This is because as I reflect on my experiences they have helped form me into who I am today, in addition I did these various roles because I was passionate about it, not because I thought it would give me skills to get into medical school. So why would I try to write about my tutoring or leadership and connect it to medicine? I found that by simply explaining my experiences and focus on how it impacted me I was able to be the most genuine and tell my story in the best way.
On that note, you'll also notice that I didn't focus on skills, skills, skills! Contrary to CVs or other job descriptions, I didn't list out how my president role showed how I was "organized and responsible" or how my research showed I can "work well on a team and coordinate with others". I avoided all of that typical resume language as much as possible.
Looking back, I think this was a strength of my application because it becomes clear to whoever is reading that I had clear passions for 1. creating community, 2. diversity, equity and inclusion and advocacy work 3. helping other students and helping the underserved. These became clear not because I just talked about them or forced them into my application but because everything I did was connected to those passions and shown through my actions not just my words and across various activities from research, to my teaching roles, to my leadership roles, to my clinical roles, to even my blog! I think by reading my application, you got a strong sense of who I am and what my passions are. And then my personal statement gives the background of my story and explains how yes I have all these other passions and here is why I am passionate about medicine! Then in my interviews I was really able to tie it all together when I talked about what role I see myself playing in my community as a physician and being someone who wants to be a researcher, advocate, mentor for underrepresented students and how I hope to focus on health disparities and community health.
This is my story. My passions and my vision. My question for you as you are preparing your application is "what's yours?" And as you write your application, let that passion flow through your words and descriptions.
I hope that reading through my activities along with my thought process and tips and tricks helps you out! It was SO helpful for me to read other applications as I was figuring out how to approach this application and for that reason I am happy to pay it forward by writing this blog. If anything I hope that by reading my story it has inspired you to tell your story!
Best of luck future doctors!