Experiential Preparation

How important are extracurricular activities?

Extracurricular activities are very important for a number of reasons. First, they make your time at Tufts happier and more relaxed. Second, they show your interest in non academic pursuits. Third, they help you develop important qualities such as communication, leadership and organizational skills. Interviewers are often eager to learn how you spend your free time, and they often look for solid commitment to a few activities (quality rather than quantity). Do not sacrifice good grades for a long list of extracurricular, but do not aim for a 4.0 GPA at the expense of your personal enjoyment. Find a happy balance in between the two extremes.

Tufts has many active student organizations that relate to health professions. Among them are The Tufts Premed Society (which includes an AMSA chapter), the Tufts MAPS (undergraduate of chapter of the SNMA, minority medical student society focused on health disparities) Pre-dental Society, Pre-vet Society and Public Health at Tufts (PHAT). They offer many interesting programs and tips for their members. See the 'Tufts Pre-Health Clubs" on the left hand side. 

What should I do with my summers?

You should use them to learn as much as possible about our health care delivery system and patient care. This can take the form of hospital volunteer positions, research or clinical internships, or participation in many other programs which you can find on this website, other sites or through personal contact. Interviewers and admissions committees often focus on summer experiences, as summers are a good time for in depth work, demonstrating your motivation and interest in medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, or whatever field you are choosing. If you travel or work in a non-medical setting, these experiences are good to talk about and learn from as well. For example, you could learn as much about interacting with a wide variety of people by being a waiter or waitress as you would as an ER volunteer.

In general, explore the opportunities available to you, and take advantage of what you can. Opportunities do not need to be full-time, nor do they need to be formal internships in order for you to learn and benefit from them. Often students will combine a paid job in a non-career setting (e.g. lifeguarding) with a volunteer opportunity in a local nursing home or community health clinic. There is no reason you cannot gain some further exposure and understanding of health care in your summers, even if you are working full time or taking a lab science course. Every experience builds on your fund of knowledge and overall understanding of the profession you are choosing.

Be sure to check out our listings, in particular summer camps for special needs children, and the internship listings on the Career Center website: http://career.tufts.edu/. Also be aware of the funding opportunities that Tufts offers to its undergraduates .

Do I need to do research?

Research is not a requirement for medical school or other health professions school. However, research experience can enrich your undergraduate experience and deepen your appreciation of healthcare delivery. As an intellectual enterprise it is a wonderful complement to your classroom study. All Tufts departments encourage and support their students in incorporating research into their education. Professors doing research, especially in biomedical settings, generally want students to work with them. Professors also get to know the students with whom they do research and will often write a more informative recommendation to health professions schools. For some students, research can be exciting and rewarding. Research is much more than just biomedical bench research. There is community-based public health research, social psychology research, translational research, historical research to name a few. Students may be able to work with a professor here in Medford on a volunteer basis or perhaps for credit. Some students do research on our Boston or Grafton campuses. Some apply for and receive funding through the Summer Scholars Program. Still others find research opportunities elsewhere over the summer. See the listings on the left side bar of this page and be sure to check out departmental websites and the Career Center website.

The AAMC Group on Graduate Research, Education, and Training (GREAT) Group has a list of summer undergraduate research programs affiliated with medical schools on the GREAT Group site at:

Do I need to volunteer in a hospital or shadow?

If you want to discover more about the profession you are choosing, you should seek out clinical experience. Health professions schools will expect that you have an interest, and are motivated to spend time in health care delivery settings. Almost all hospitals, and many other health facilities, have a coordinator for volunteers. That person can tell you what is available and what the time commitment will be. Some alternatives to the common Emergency Room volunteer ship include assisting in a nursing home or in a mental health facility, at an HMO or a community clinic, at a rehab center or a birthing center. You may really enjoy these experiences and your help may be more valued. See the left sidebar of this page to find local volunteer opportunities, and look for similar organizations near your home in the summer.

Also consider broader community service work as a way of developing the important qualities of compassion, interpersonal communications skills, cultural competence, and humility that will serve you well as a health care provider. Consider joining the Leonard Carmichael Society which serves as an umbrella for close to 40 community service activities. Or look at some of the other health-related clubs on campus that do service – see the left sidebar.

Do not confuse shadowing with volunteer or service work. It is very reasonable to shadow physicians or dentists or other providers. They can share their experiences with you, and you can get a view of their work life. Try the Career Center Alumni Career Advisory Network as one way to make contacts and possibly arrange a shadowing experience. But shadowing does not allow you to do something directly for patients or others in need. Shadowing is only one component of your preparing yourself experientially for your future health profession.

Finally, if you tell schools that you want to be a doctor because you want to help people, you should be able demonstrate that in the activities in which you have participated. Volunteer work or community service activities are concrete ways of following up your interests.

What about international medical programs?

There are a plethora of opportunities for legitimate international health work, and also for “voluntourism.” Be honest with yourself about why you want to do these, and about how they impact the people they are supposed to be helping. Recent concerns about ethical issues raised by some of these experiences and activities have prompted guidelines from both the AAMC and ADEA. Please read them before proceeding: Guidelines for Premedical Students & Guidelines for Predental Students 

Tufts University is an institution with a commitment to active citizenship and global awareness and involvement. Hence you can find multiple opportunities through Tufts. In the near future, a new site will be launched by Tufts that will attempt to pull all these together and will be a good starting point for you. In addition, you can look at the international opportunities listed on the left sidebar of this page. Career Center has a section under their job listings for short-term opportunities that are often international and health or service oriented.

All of these have the potential of being wonderful experiences for you while still truly helping those in the places where you go. But remember that there is great need in this country as well, and that understanding our own health care delivery system (the one in which you are most likely going to train and then work) is important. You should be sure to have some domestic experiences as well.




  Health Professions Advising, Dowling Hall, Medford, MA, 02155  |  Tel: (617) 627-2000