Wondering how the heck to fill out AMCAS work and activities section? So was I when I first applied to medical school back in 2016. Not only was I unsure how to fill them out, I was also completely unprepared for how long it would take me to fill them out.
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AMCAS Work And Activities Overview
What the AMCAS Work and Activities Section Consists Of
The AMCAS work and activities section is section 5 of the primary application to apply to medical school.
If you are unsure what the primary application is, you can see all that it entails here (LINK).
For your work and activities section, you will be adding up to 15 extra-curricular activities, clinical experiences, volunteer experiences, work experiences, and basically anything that is significant in your path to applying to medical school.
Think of things that show your character or show your commitment to medicine.
A lot of students think of their personal statement as the one way to share their story with admission committees. This is simply not true, the descriptions that you provide in this section is also a huge factor in telling your unique story!
When I was interviewing for the 2021 application cycle, I was almost always asked about one or two of the experiences I provided in the activities section.
So take this section very seriously and be prepared to talk about what each experience means to you in interviews!
AMCAS Work and Activities Categories
When you start adding in your experiences into your primary application, you will have to choose which category it falls under. The following are the options that you have to choose from in the AMCAS work and activities section:
- Artistic Endeavors
- Community Service/Volunteer – Medical/Clinical
- Community Service/Volunteer – Not Medical/Clincal
- Conferences Attended
- Extracurricular Activities
- Intercollegiate Athletics
- Leadership – Not Listed Elsewhere
- Military Service
- Paid Employment – Medical/Clinical
- Paid Employment – Not Medical/Clinical
- Physician Shadowing/Clinical Observation
- Teaching/Tutoring/Teaching Assistant
The categories are pretty straight forward. Some students do find thought that they are unsure which experiences count as clinical or non-clinical. In this case, think about whether you were in direct contact with patients.
If you cared for patients in any way, then mark it as clinical. If you were in a hospital setting, but you were only stocking shelves and filing paperwork then count it as non-clinical.
AMCAS Work and Activities Character Limit
Once you add in your experiences you will have to fill out a description for each experience. The character limit is 700 characters and for most meaningful experiences, you will get an additional 1,325 characters.
When You Should Start Writing Them
Just as you want to start your personal statement early so you can get feedback and revise it multiple times, you’ll want to do the same for your extra-curricular descriptions.
If you are thinking you’ll just need an hour or two to simply out what you did for each experience you are quite mistaken!
Just like with the personal statement, you want to share personal stories and *reflect* on what each experience meant to you. You’ll be surprised when you sit down to do this and realize the writer’s block is major at first!
Do you need 15 activities for AMCAS?
Nope! Quality is 10x better than quantity when it comes to choosing what experiences to list.
Filling the work and activities section with “fluff” is most definitely not going to impress the adcoms.
If you are a non-traditional student, took a gap year (or a few), are a career changer, etc. then you might easily fill up 15 experiences because you have a lot of life experience.
It is by no means bad to use up all 15 experiences in this case.
On the other hand, if you are a senior in college, haven’t worked full time before, and only have 6 meaningful experiences to put down, then it is not in your best interest to add in 5 more random experiences just to fill up your application.
*How* To Write AMCAS Work and Activities Descriptions
“When writing your summary, you may want to consider the transformative nature of the experience, the impact you made while engaging in the activity, and the personal growth you experienced as a result of your participation.”
Alright, this is where we get to the fun part!
You want “SHOW not TELL who you are and what your story is”.
As you’ll see in some of my examples below and Dr. Gray’s video, *telling a personal story is the way to go*.
Granted, it is much easier said then done but it CAN be done. My examples are by no means perfect but you can see Dr. Gray’s feedback in the video where I was a guest on his Mission Accepted series (LINK)! If you watch, you’ll see that overall he loved the way I applied his advice and did my best to write stories.
Top 3 Things to Avoid when writing AMCAS work and activities descriptions
Despite thoroughly checking and rechecking all of my descriptions AND having my boyfriend look them all over for typos… ONE sneaky typo still ended up on my AMCAS application and TWO on my AACOMAS application.
I was even copy and pasting my descriptions into Google Docs, because it caught a lot of typos for me. Somehow one still managed to go unnoticed so I highly recommend getting Grammarly.
Obviously I still had a very successful cycle, but it looks really bad and I would do everything in my power to avoid any! And Grammarly has a free Chrome extension for some added safety measures!
- Being Negative
You may not even realize something sounds negative.
“The job lacked the patient contact I wanted as a doctor one day, but I loved knowing that I was helping treat a medical condition for a patient.”
It isn’t overly negative, but in my video chat with Dr. Gray he said statements such as this just aren’t necessary.
Just highlight the positives!
- Writing a Job Description
The video below is the absolute best at explaining what is a “job description” and what is a great story that shows your character.
Not only that, but it shows even more examples of good vs. bad. I highly recommend it! Save it to your watch later playlist so you can refer back to it when you have major writer’s block!
A good rule of thumb is that if 99% of everyday people would know what your experience is just by the name, then you don’t have to explain what you did.
Say one of your experiences is babysitting, working as a server, or playing basketball. You shouldn’t waste space saying you watched kids in the evenings or you took orders from customers!
That is what every babysitter or server does!
Instead, use the space to talk about *how the experience impacted you OR how you impacted others through that experience*.
Resources I Love + My Best Advice From Personal Experience
This is my FAVORITE video that I watched when I was filling out my work and activities descriptions! It is SO helpful! Okay, I’m done, you get it haha.
AMCAS Work And Activities Examples
Alright, now that we covered the basics we get into ALL the examples! Below I have copied every single experience description that I had in my primary application for the 2021 cycle!
3 Most Meaningful Experience Essay Examples
My most meaningful experiences where working as a server (because it was a big factor in finally deciding to choose a major), working as an EMT (because it was a very significant clinical experience where I learned a ton, and being a member of my college’s equestrian team (because at one point riding horses was my whole world and it really shaped me into the person I am today).
“The couple at table 204 still needs a side of ranch; my running side work tonight is ice and I noticed it getting low; the host just sat one of my tables with a family of six, I need to get their drink order in the next two minutes.” As I list and relist each mental note, I write down the order for the guests I am serving. To my right is a man trying to soothe his crying toddler, while behind me the smell of our one-of-a-kind Po’Boy makes my mouth water. The aroma of the sandwich reminded me of my hunger. I came straight to work after a riding lesson, hence no time to eat before my shift. I will be in Georgia for a horse show this weekend, so I was scheduled to work every night this week.
Monday morning I have a chemistry exam that I will need to study for on the bus ride to and from the competition. On a positive note, I make about $100 in tips by the end of the night. I love not having to burden my mom for money. By 10 PM the restaurant is closed and I hear the last table walk out. Another hour goes by and I finish table work, cleaning bathrooms, and mopping. I am a closer tonight so Madison, another server, tells me she is ready to be checked. I ask her to re-wipe expo and she rolls her eyes then smirks at me. We both know she rushed through her side work and was hoping I would not notice. I understand though, she has class in the morning too and just wants to go home. By 11:30 PM I am finally home and fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow. That was a typical week for me until sophomore year. I was passing my classes, but knew I had the potential to do better. I vividly remember sitting in my dorm room fall semester, unhappy that I had no major and sub-par grades. I scoured the internet for “anything I could do related to science,” and I considered pursuing a career in medicine for the first time. By spring I declared a major and cut back to three shifts a week. All thanks to my job as a server forcing me to reconsider my priorities and discover what I truly wanted.
“Draw a horse’s name from a hat, then without warming up enter the ring and do your best!” That is how Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) competitions work. We had three lessons per week to prepare for the four competitions each semester that required us to travel out of state. My freshman year after tryouts, my coach chose to make me the team’s open rider, placing me in the most advanced division of six. As a freshman, it meant the world to me and I was excited for the challenge of having older and more experienced competitors. By the end of the year I had ranked fourth in my region. During my senior year, I was also elected team captain.
As 8 AM approached I learned I would be riding Scooby in my over fences class. We were in Georgia for the last competition of my senior year and I needed one more point to qualify for Regionals. Thirty minutes later, I rode into the arena determined not to let this be my last ride of the season. I shifted my left leg to cue Scooby into a canter and he was slower than I expected. We chipped the first fence and I quickly corrected my mistake by asking for more momentum. The next two fences went as planned and I got a little too comfortable as our rollback (tight turn) loomed closer. I was delayed in applying my outside rein and leg that Scooby needed. We were one stride away then… STOP. Scooby slammed on the brakes and refused the fence. My heart dropped as I realized my mistake made the hope of going to Regionals vanish. As painful as it was to not qualify, I knew it was part of the sport. We finished the rest of the course and I rode out of the competition ring for the last time proud of all I had accomplished in the last four years. The rest of the day I spent supporting my teammates; videoing rides, polishing boots, and congratulating them for good rides. By the end of the day, our team earned a 2nd place finish, reminding me I had plenty to celebrate as we all got back on the bus to return home.
Emergency Medical Technician
On my first day of field training as an EMT, my lack of patient care experience quickly became obvious to my trainer, Joel. I was sitting in the back of the ambulance with my first real patient, fumbling with the blood pressure cuff as I wrapped it around his arm. Joel sat in the extra seat behind the patient, and a police officer was standing to my left waiting to hear the blood pressure reading. My heart raced, and my cheeks flushed red as I realized I could not quite remember how I was taught to do this in the EMT course I had attended two years prior. Joel stepped in to help and refresh my memory. The rest of the day, I was constantly looking to Joel to ease my uncertainty.
When I returned to San Diego after grad school, money was tight, so I chose to work as a nanny to quickly recover financially. A year and a half later, I moved to Seattle and was finally in a place where I could work as an EMT. I can now confidently assess a patient, take a full set of vitals, and know the appropriate questions to ask for each situation. Although I will need a whole new set of skills and knowledge to become a physician, I am immensely grateful for the confidence that being an EMT has given me. I have also learned that I thoroughly enjoy patient care, but I still look forward to becoming a provider that has a larger scope of practice. Additionally, I have loved getting exposure to different specialties. One call in particular piqued my interest in the OB/GYN specialty. After making our way through a maze of elevators, my partner and I reached the OR where a mom had just delivered her baby boy. The six pound newborn was hooked up to more tubes than I could count and had to be transported to another hospital for surgery. My eyes were glued to the scene, when one of the nurses hands me a neonatal stethoscope. As I listened to the rapid sound of his heart beating, it was clear that OB/GYN was a specialty I was excited to learn more about in medical school.
Note the difference between my story about being a nanny and more of a “job description” for my other two experiences. Stories are better! Buuuut I’m only human haha, like I said, easier said than done!
Caregiver/Nanny for Quadriplegic Mother
Heather is a mother of two young children, a business owner, and wife. During high school, she was studying abroad in Argentina when she was involved in a tragic car accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. As her caregiver and nanny, I worked 48 hour shifts every other weekend. Starting on Friday evenings, I was the person responsible for anything relating to Heather’s care (feeding, dressing, showering, etc.), as well as cooking meals for the family, grocery shopping, driving the family to outings, and putting the kids to bed. The job was difficult at times, but it was incredibly rewarding to know that my role made a positive difference in Heather’s life.
VetStem is a company that receives fat tissue mainly from horses and dogs, isolates the stem cells, then sends them back in syringes to treat osteoarthritis (OA). As Carolyn (my soon to be boss) walked me through the halls of VetStem I was so excited to learn how the lab techniques I learned in college could apply in real life. I was especially fascinated that this process was likely to be used to treat OA in humans one day. I enjoyed working in our small group; we each had an integral role to ensure the syringes were packed by 4 PM each day. The job lacked the patient contact I wanted as a doctor one day, but I loved knowing that I was helping treat a medical condition for a patient.
Eight year old Ashley could hardly contain her excitement as we drove to Weinerschnitzel for a candy shake. Her excitement stemmed partly from the fact that her mother would not typically allow a sugary treat before dinner and partly because she has been working to earn this shake for over a month. When Alicia’s three kids started at their new school, they were often late for the bus because they were packing their lunch last minute. I decided to create “reward charts” for each child, and they were able to choose a reward after 30 days of packing their lunch the night before. It was gratifying to have found a solution that fixed the problem while also making it enjoyable for Ashley.
It took me a million years to remember a story to tell for my volunteer experiences! Two of them were from a few years ago, but I kept re-watching Dr. Gray’s video and was determined to figure out a way to tell a story!
Pediatric OR Information Desk Volunteer
“Hello, Mrs. Smith is asking for her child’s post-op room number.” The nurse on the other line informed me that the child I was asking about was not on her floor. As I relayed the information to the already wide-eyed concerned mother standing across from me, her worry increased tenfold. I quickly realized my mistake and contacted the correct unit. Despite the quick fix, I felt awful that my silly error had caused this mother more stress than she was already experiencing. Determined to prevent that from happening again, I stopped by my supervisor’s office at the end of my shift to ask questions about all the little things I was still unsure about.
Surgery Waiting Room Volunteer
I was eager to get any exposure to the hospital atmosphere I could after declaring my major. This experience provided great insight to how things work before and after a surgery. One day, a patient who checked in with his wife told me, “We had to drive four hours and stay in a hotel last night.” I cannot recall any patient who acted like surgery day was no big deal. Each patient and family member was nervous and hoping for a successful surgery no matter how routine. Each week, I looked forward to helping ease patient’s stress on such an important day. I checked in patients, gave updates during the surgery, and walked family to post-op to finally reunite them with their loved one.
Helper For Disabled Radiologist
Dr. Peter is a radiologist at Stanley Hospital despite a past bike accident that paralyzed him from the shoulders down. He has regained enough movement to allow him to get around the hospital using a Segway and walk short distances using forearm crutches. Once a week, I assisted him with anything he was unable to do himself while at work; carry crutches, prepare his lunch, and help him into his car at the end of the day. Meanwhile, I was able to speak with residents, observe patient scans, and sit in on morbidity and mortality meetings. Anytime I find myself complaining, I think back to what Dr. Peter overcame to be a physician and it inspires me to enjoy every step of my own journey.
After School Tutor
On my first day of tutoring at Dexter Elementary, I walked into a library full of kids and tutors. Rachel, my new student, was told that her new tutor had arrived. I saw an 8 year old girl jump up with excitement and walk over to meet me. Rachel tells me that her previous tutor quit a few weeks ago, so she was excited to have a tutor again. Over the next few weeks, we worked on math and focused on her weak areas. When we finished early, we would play board games and enjoy the rest of the hour. At the end of each day she would say, “See you again next week, right?” I loved responding, “Of course!” and knowing I am someone she could depend on and look forward to seeing each week.
My experience with research is the one exception where I felt like a story would be too forced. Instead, I just explained what research I was involved in.
If you are a non-traditional student who maybe did research a few years back (like me) it is good to brush up on what you did. I was asked to explain my experiment in an interview before! Quite hard to do if it’s been a while!
Cell Biology Research
My favorite part of conducting research was when I was able to develop my own experimental procedure. I chose an independent variable, alfalfa extract, and formed a hypothesis of how it would affect the expression of a specific gene in my mouse cell culture. For three days, I was responsible for going to the lab twice a day and maintaining three flasks of cells (the control and two different concentrations of alfalfa extract). The final step was measuring the gene expression using Real-Time PCR and writing a paper to present the results. The process of carrying out an experiment from start to finish, was an enjoyable way to solidify the concepts I was learning in the classroom.
Note again the difference between my story from being in chemistry club. I honestly could have left out the Laguna Social Tribe experience because it wasn’t really meaningful or impactful to me.
Member of Laguna Social Tribe
The clubs and tribes were our version of sororities and fraternities. As a freshman, I was excited to be living in a new state and starting college. I had already made great friends through the equestrian team, but I wanted to be fully immersed in the college experience. The rush process for my tribe, Laguna, was a big time commitment; we spent 3-4 hours together most weeknights. Bonding with so many other freshman girls that semester helped me feel comfortable at the place I would call home for the next four years. I also met one of my life-long best friends, Phaedra, during the rush process so joining Laguna had a lasting impact on my college experience and beyond.
SMACS Chemistry Club
My favorite event that I participated in with my chemistry club was helping with demonstrations for the kids during a homecoming tailgate. Our campus was filled with families from the community, and as kids walked by our booth I would ask if they wanted to see the gummy bear experiment. All the kids loved picking out what color gummy bear they wanted us to use. Then they would watch with eyes wide as we dropped it into a test tube of heated potassium chlorate and it burst into flames. One day, those kids might think back to that fun memory and decide to major in science. Knowing that exposing kids to science can impact them in such a meaningful way makes it immensely rewarding.
How to List Shadowing on AMCAS
Note: *names and places are changed for privacy*
I decided to list shadowing this way after watching Dr. Gray’s video where he suggests to do this. I was just happy I didn’t have to think of another story!
Springfield Spine and Sports Medicine (16 hrs – March 2020) – Shadowed a physiatrist in a private practice setting – Observed patient consultations and epidural injections Dr. John Smith, DO Shadowing Abroad in Spain – Atlantis Project (80 hrs – Summer 2015) – Shadowed in hematology, general surgery, oncology, internal medicine, neurosurgery, and cardiology – Observed a laparoscopic gallbladder removal and surgery on the spine Orthopaedic Associates of Springfield (42 hrs – Summer 2015) – Shadowed an orthopedic surgeon in a private practice setting – Observed patient consults, three hip replacements, and a knee replacement Dr. John Smith, MD
AMCAS Future activities
I wouldn’t suggest adding future activities that you haven’t started yet. Things may change and you don’t want to get asked about it and say you didn’t actually end up doing it.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many activities can you put on AMCAS?
You can put up to 15 activities and choose up to 3 of them as most meaningful. You are not required to use all 15 and you should think of quality of quantity.
Does AMCAS contact work/activities?
It is highly unlikely that AMCAS or the medical school you are applying to would contact the references you put down. Despite this, you most definitely should not lie or extend the truth for hours and descriptions. You often get asked about your experiences in interviews.
How do you add AMCAS end date for an ongoing activity?
If you plan to continue an activity until medical school you can project the dates until the time that you would start medical school. For example, I planned to continue to work as an EMT so I put the end date as June 2021 when I applied in 2020.
I hope you feel like the AMCAS work and activities section will at least be a little easier after reading this post! Please comment below if you have any questions! Best of luck applying!
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