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How important are extracurriculars in med school?

Our advice columnist answers a DO’s question about preparing a professional bio and a student’s question about extracurricular activities.


When pondering your way forward in medicine — whether you’re a student considering which elective rotations to pursue or a mid-career physician thinking about changing jobs — it’s always a good idea to seek out the guidance of those who have come before you.

In this quarterly column, I answer questions from DOs and students about succeeding in medical school, residency and beyond. For this month, I am answering a DO’s question about putting together a professional bio for their employer’s website and a student’s question about navigating extracurricular activities during their undergraduate medical training.

A little about me: I’m the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), where I also oversee NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. In my career, I’ve also served as a hospital chief medical officer, emergency department director, residency program director and emergency medicine physician.

I welcome questions from our DO and medical student community about anything related to success in medicine. Please send your questions to You can also reach me on Twitter @JerryBalentine and on Instagram @jerry.balentine. I look forward to engaging with you. 

How important is it to get involved in extracurricular activities so I can add the activities to my CV for my residency application?

The most important thing to do when you start medical school is to adjust to the new rigorous learning environment you have entered. Once you are settled in and can gauge how much time you have for other activities, I usually recommend pursuing your passions and interests rather than accumulating “things” to put on your CV.

Although matching into residency is obviously an important part of your medical career, the real goal is to be the best physician you can be, and to that end pursuing your passions and interests will help you achieve that goal. In many cases, your passions and interests will naturally align with activities that are helpful for residency applications.

Clubs and activities will provide you with the opportunity to explore new things and your future career interests. Let’s say you know that a certain specialty or residency program you are interested in prefers candidates with research experience or publications. Working with a researcher during the semester or the summer might turn out to be less fulfilling for you than you thought. You now have learned that you might not enjoy an academic medical career and maybe you should look for residency programs that don’t emphasize research in their training.

As always, it is a balance. If, at the end of medical school, you are ranked in the top 5% of your class and have passed your board exams with top results, many programs will be interested in you even if you have limited activities. If that is not you, then activities that tell who you are and what your interests are will help you tell your story.

Accumulating a lot of disparate clubs, events and experiences that don’t help illustrate who you are will be less supportive of your application.

Can you give me some guidance on the most effective way to prepare a professional biography for my employer’s website? I also plan to use this bio for speaking engagements at conferences and other events.

The first step is to have a CV that includes a chronologic history of your education and career as well as important achievements, publications and interests. I keep a running CV that is very detailed and long but not meant to be shared. I use it to refresh my memory and as a base to create my current CV that I share if needed. This CV is shorter and geared toward the last three to five years of my career (for example, it includes where I did my internship but not the awards I received during my internship, and it emphasizes the recognitions I’ve received in the last five years).

If I apply for specific positions or am interested in joining a board or committee, I will further modify my CV to specifically highlight anything of interest to such groups. Maybe I will include not just that I write a column for The DO, but also the titles and dates of the columns when applying to be the editor of a journal or other publication.

The bios for websites tend to be geared toward patients. The amount of information you can include tends to be limited. Most of the time you will receive specific guidelines so that all the employee bios appear uniform.

If you have the ability to modify these formats or there are no restrictions, I recommend including a few highlights from your career (served in the military; finished her chief residency at …) combined with your medical interests (has a special interest in the impact of nutrition on patients’ wellbeing; brings additional expertise in pain management to his practice) and a short item from your non-medical life (in her free time enjoys the outdoors; is a supporter of the local Boys and Girls Club).

One of the features I enjoy on medical websites is short videos of the providers. Although many of us are uncomfortable participating in videos, they are powerful tools to tell your story and give your future patients a sense of who you are.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

What should I consider when preparing my Match rank list?

How will taking a year off of medical school impact my Match prospects?

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