Health professions schools want to admit students who have the ability to provide compassionate care to future patients. Because schools cannot become acquainted with each applicant, admissions committees look for indications of a caring attitude in the application and interview. Community service is one of the best ways in which this can be demonstrated. Community service is loosely defined as any activity which benefits another individual for which the provider of the service receives no compensation, financial or otherwise (including class credit).
In the health care field, professionals take responsibility for the welfare of others. Professional schools admit students who have experience making decisions which affect the lives of others and recognize their decisions have consequences for other people. Examples that fit this requirement include coaching, tutoring, mentoring, church leadership, etc. As always, schools should be contacted directly if there is a question about satisfying a requirement.
Not all schools require research. Schools are generally very broad in what they will count as research. Some schools require that an applicant's research be primary in nature (i.e. this is the first time the research is being carried out). Other programs will not have as stringent a definition for their research requirement. Normally, the requirement cannot be met using research performed for school credit (other than internships). Although a requirement for only a few schools, research can be very beneficial for any application.
Schools recognize that the health care field is constantly changing and professionals need to stay current in their field through the reading of primary scientific literature. Schools desire that applicants understand scientific literature, know how research is performed, and have the capacity to distinguish credible research from poor research.
A strong background in research is required for students applying to combined PhD programs because research is an important component of associated careers. If a school lists research as beneficial or required, contact the school directly for its requirements.
Not all schools require patient exposure. Patient exposure is working with patients directly. For example, working with those who live in a retirement home is patient exposure. Gaining experience with patients is beneficial for any health professions applicant. Patient exposure can be obtained in any capacity in which the student interacts directly with patients. However, this generally will not include working in a hospital cafeteria or as an orderly.
Professional schools want students to recognize that people are not always friendly to health care workers and are not always pleasant to be around when they are ill. If students are not comfortable being around unpleasant, sick individuals, healthcare may not be for them. This is an especially important requirement for medical school and PA programs. It is very important that prior to beginning any patient exposure experience students contact schools directly about what will or will not fulfill this requirement.
Extracurricular activities can set students apart from other applicants and help admissions committees see who the applicant really is as a person. Generally, a non-academic activity which does not meet the requirements for any of the other named categories is considered extracurricular.
Schools are interested in the extracurricular activities of a student for multiple reasons. Primarily, schools are interested in the time management abilities of a student. Health professions schools want students who can manage a heavy academic load and outside commitments and be successful in both. Sports teams, choirs, societies, hobbies etc. are examples of extracurricular activities. Schools are interested in applicants who are well-rounded. It is important to not exaggerate any experiences when applying to professional programs.
Shadowing is required universally, regardless of the health care field one wants to enter. Professional schools are concerned that students understand the demands and duties which they will face in the health care field. It is important for students to keep track of the hours they spend shadowing as well as their experiences. Shadowing experiences can be an effective tool to help admissions committees understand a student's motivations when shared in a personal statement or interview. Many students choose a career in health professions for financial and lifestyle reasons while not understanding the sacrifices that come with it. The health professions field provides wonderful careers for many individuals, but it is not right for everyone. Shadowing provides students with essential information as they make the decision to pursue a health professions career.
A question often arises about church callings and missions fulfilling any non-academic requirements. Church activities (callings) may be used, and applicants are strongly encouraged to use and discuss them openly. It is important to note, however, that admissions committees are aware that accepting a calling or serving a mission can be culturally motivated. Therefore, applicants should not use church service alone to fulfill these requirements. When used in conjunction with other activities, church service can display a pattern of behavior which admissions committees find favorable.
It is known that LDS missions are primarily proselyting missions, not service missions. It is imperative that applicants do not attempt to portray their mission for anything other than what it was. Missions are widely respected by admissions committees as excellent experiences for growth, leadership, and exposure to a different way of life. Many admissions committee members have stated that they like the "returned-missionary" type. It is imperative to explain positions or responsibilities of church service in ways which people not of the LDS faith can understand.