Politics and patient care: how to translate an interest in activism and civic engagement into your medical school application

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By Mugdha

MedicalSchoolApplication“Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale.” Rudolph Virchow, the father of modern pathology, devoted an equally large portion of his life (when he wasn’t classifying thrombosis risk factors into a triad) to social medicine. Medical history is filled with countless examples of physicians serving as activists, and much of the advances made in public health are through the political advocacy of healthcare professionals that noticed a problem in their community.

My hope is, though, that if you clicked on this article you already know that part. You have one, or two, or many interests in public policy or social justice, and maybe have admirably balanced those alongside science classes and MCAT prep. Like many of us who enter medical school with activism and advocacy at the forefront of our careers, you may feel an intrinsic motivation towards putting labor into this work.

However, it is worth mentioning that getting into medical school is hard. Some people might be reasonably concerned that the hours you put into advocacy might take away from hours that could be spent building your resume, working on your application, or doing research. Today, I challenge you to move past this paradigm. I want to provide insight into three ways that you can channel your political enthusiasm into patient-centered activities that will not only strengthen your application to medical school but will also give you some ideas about what a career as a physician advocate may look like in the future.

1. Volunteering with a twist: patient advocate roles

Clinical volunteering is important. Any website with advice for premedical students could tell you that, and most every pre-medical advisor will push their students to add hours volunteering in the healthcare setting to their portfolio—and it’s easy to see why. Volunteering gives you an appreciation for the importance of service, working in a hospital setting gives you exposure to the profession, spending time with patients is not only valuable for them but also for your own growth…the reasons go on and on.

I would like to present yet another reason for service in the hospital setting: patient advocacy. Some opportunities (especially once you have received adequate training) can allow you to experience clinical volunteering while also enabling you to serve a community that is marginalized or faces exceptional barriers in accessing healthcare.

Some examples of this include: volunteering at an asylum clinic or a community clinic that serves refugees, working as a rape crisis counselor, working at a mental health or suicide prevention hotline, getting trained to be a translator in a hospital or clinic setting, or becoming a volunteer doula.

2. Working with healthcare-related professional advocacy organizations

This is the next step up and might be of interest to people who really spend a lot of time in the non-profit or lobbying world. The American Medical Association lists a number of professional advocacy roles that physicians and medical students participate in, and many medical professional societies function the same way. In addition, there are several political organizations that participate in health advocacy (for example, Advocates for Youth, who do work on sexual health education for young people) that you could get involved in. By tying political interest with health issues, you will get to broaden your knowledge about real issues that your future patients will face. Furthermore, participating in professional organizations demonstrates leadership, which is heavily valued in the admissions process and the profession.

3. Write about it

Honestly, putting hours into advocacy and activism demonstrates a passion towards humanity that few other extracurricular activities will be able to replicate. This passion will shine through in your application—as long as you *put* it in your application. Consider folding your interests into your secondaries or put an advocacy lens into your personal statement. Need help putting it all together? Consider asking your friendly Cambridge Coaching MD admissions strategy coach.

Cambridge Coaching has the most qualified team of medical school writing coaches available anywhere. Our team is composed of MD, MD-PhDs, like Mugdha, and professional writers because we understand that the best coach is going to help you produce a dazzling AMCAS essay, as well as a suite of supplementary materials that provides a persuasive, integrated argument for why you belong in medical school.

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Curious to learn more about the MD admissions process? Check out some of our previous blog posts below!

5 Important Things to Remember When Applying to Medical School

FAQs on the Medical School Admissions Process

How to Get Letters of Recommendation for Medical School