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Extracurriculars in Medical School: Do You Have Time and Should You Care?

As a Junior in college I attended a medical student panel. One of them said something that stuck with me: “Back in undergrad my life had so many responsibilities and so many extracurriculars. In medical school those aren’t there. It’s hard for sure, but it’s simple.” I felt stretched thin back then, balancing schoolwork and everything else had been a bumpy road. I was excited for the simplicity that awaited me.

“Crank That Sartorius” shows off their moves at the Winter 2019 show

Cut to August 2018. It was my first day of medical school at Michigan and already my inbox had a bunch of emails about responsibilities and extracurriculars, the same ones I had been told weren’t there! I barely knew how to find my way to lecture, and so the thought of running for president of a student interest group seemed like too much too soon. I worried about making the same mistake again.

But allow me to make the case for why it isn’t a mistake, why it isn’t too much too soon, and why putting yourself out there is the best thing you can do as a first-year student at UMMS.

So, I closed my email. I didn’t want to deal with it at that moment. Our class had a get-together across town that I went to instead. I got there and sat down next to two people that I didn’t recognize and who I thought might be second-year students. I introduced myself, and sure enough they were.

“Great!” I thought, “I can get the scoop on what to do about my inbox.” We talked for several hours about anything and everything I could think to ask. They said almost everyone participates in something outside of lecture. They also told me I should join Biorhythms, a medical student dance group that puts on shows for the school twice a year.

Back then, I had zero dance experience. I am 6’2’’, lanky, and uncoordinated. Imagining myself dancing on stage seemed offensive, and I didn’t want to put an audience through such a thing. But the more I thought about it the more I wanted to do it. I had just started medical school. That was a huge change, and it was a chance to grow in directions I never had. Why not embrace it?

I felt a bit awkward at first since it was mostly M2s, M3s, and M4s. But it was so dang fun that none of those feelings lasted. Soon I found myself excited for practice, excited to interact with the senior students and check in on their lives. I began to see the upperclassmen outside of Biorhythms, in the hospital, in the library, out and about. It felt so great to have a broader circle of friends, friends that aren’t studying the same thing as me, thinking the same thing as me, or worrying about the same thing as me.

I didn’t know what it was like to be on a pediatrics sub-internship, to do a surgery rotation, or to submit an ERAS for residency. I didn’t fully know what it was like to have their lives and they didn’t fully know what it was like to have mine. We would just put our med student hats away and be friends instead, dancing around, cracking jokes, and getting to know each other in genuine and authentic ways.

“Racy Desi” finishing strong at the Spring 2019 show

But at the same time, I still was an M1 who had a lot going on. The senior students I met might not have been worrying about what I was, but at some point, they had. I felt fortunate to have a group of friends that had gone through what I was going through. Ones who were always willing and able to help me out, and I leaned on them quite a bit throughout my first year. Being a medical student is complicated business and knowing people further along who can uncomplicate it is huge.

So, Biorhythms was awesome. The show in January 2019 was a blast. I got to spend a few more months with some of the M4s I had met prior to their graduation in May. But that’s not all. I had so much fun dancing, meeting people, and putting myself out there that I was asked to be a co-director for the following Biorhythms show. It was an incredible opportunity that I loved doing. It was a unique and gratifying experience that made my M1 year special.

I say this because I believe in the Butterfly Effect, the idea that seemingly minor events in the present cascade into major events of the future.

Looking back, I think about what might have been were I too reluctant to take on any extracurriculars, had I been too hesitant to sit down with M2s I’d never met and ask about what I could do with my spare time, had I been too risk averse and shied away from something I’d never done before. I see myself losing out on the incredible opportunities afforded to me had I not taken that small first step.

I’m still 6’2’’, lanky, and uncoordinated. But now I can proudly say I have dance experience. Who knows where trying new things will take you, or what will happen when you deliberately leave your circle of comfort and meet new people at different stages of life? But that’s exactly why you should make it a point to find out, to see what happens and where you’ll go. It might make you a bunch of new friends, connect you with mentors, provide you with a unique opportunity, or in my case all the above.

So, to any of you reading this who are about to begin medical school: get out there, take advantage of what’s around you, try things that make you a little nervous, and don’t keep your head down. You’ll be glad you did.