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Cornell University

Pre-Health Activities

Health professional programs have varying expectations and/or requirements for admission when it comes to your co-curricular engagement. The common thread is that it is essential to 1) gain experience related to the career field in which you are interested, and 2) serve others in ways that are meaningful to you. Health Careers are inherently service-oriented, and most (but not all!) take place in a clinical setting, and so gaining experience in these two areas is considered essential.

Generally, health professional schools look for co-curricular engagement in the following areas in ways that are meaningful to YOU:

  • Clinical Experience
    • Meaningful clinical experiences and exposure to the profession and clinical settings
    • Demonstration of the desire to work with people who are not well
    • Understanding of the profession
  • Service Experience
    • A genuine commitment to being of service to your community (Cornell and beyond!)
    • Interest in helping vulnerable individuals
  • Research or other Scholarly Activity
    • Experience using the scientific method and building scientific inquiry skills
    • Not always required by all health professional programs
  • Leadership and other personal characteristics
    • Teamwork and strategic initiative
    • Maturity, empathy, interpersonal skills, and professionalism

Don’t think of the above as a series of boxes to be checked! Health professional programs look for sustained excellence and critical skills in important areas and exploration outside of one’s comfort zone. To that effect, most health professions have instituted “core competencies” or skills that entering health professional students must demonstrate in order to be successful.

Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students

The Association of American Medical Colleges (the MD school umbrella) developed a set of 15 Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students (defined below). By the time students/alumni apply to medical school, they need to have demonstrated skills in the following areas:

Interpersonal Competencies

  • Service Orientation. Demonstrates a desire to help others and sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings; demonstrates a desire to alleviate others’ distress; recognizes and acts on his/her responsibilities to society; locally, nationally, and globally.
  • Social Skills. Demonstrates an awareness of others’ needs, goals, feelings, and the ways that social and behavioral cues affect peoples’ interactions and behaviors; adjusts behaviors appropriately in response to these cues; treats others with respect.
  • Cultural Competence. Demonstrates knowledge of socio-cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Teamwork. Works collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals; shares information and knowledge with others and provides feedback; puts team goals ahead of individual goals.
  • Oral Communication. Effectively conveys information to others using spoken words and sentences; listens effectively; recognizes potential communication barriers and adjusts approach or clarifies information as needed.

Intrapersonal Competencies

  • Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others. Behaves in an honest and ethical manner; cultivates personal and academic integrity; adheres to ethical principles and follows rules and procedures; resists peer pressure to engage in unethical behavior and encourages others to behave in honest and ethical ways; develops and demonstrates ethical and moral reasoning.
  • Reliability and Dependability. Consistently fulfills obligations in a timely and satisfactory manner; takes responsibility for personal actions and performance.
  • Resilience and Adaptability. Demonstrates tolerance of stressful or changing environments or situations and adapts effectively to them; is persistent, even under difficult situations; recovers from setbacks.
  • Capacity for Improvement. Sets goals for continuous improvement and for learning new concepts and skills; engages in reflective practice for improvement; solicits and responds appropriately to feedback.

Thinking and Reasoning Competencies

  • Critical Thinking. Uses logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
  • Quantitative Reasoning. Applies quantitative reasoning and appropriate mathematics to describe or explain phenomena in the natural world.
  • Scientific Inquiry. Applies knowledge of the scientific process to integrate and synthesize information, solve problems and formulate research questions and hypotheses; is facile in the language of the sciences and uses it to participate in the discourse of science and explain how scientific knowledge is discovered and validated.
  • Written Communication. Effectively conveys information to others using written words and sentences.

Science Competencies

  • Living Systems. Applies knowledge and skill in the natural sciences to solve problems related to molecular and macro systems including biomolecules, molecules, cells, and organs.
  • Human Behavior. Applies knowledge of the self, others, and social systems to solve problems related to the psychological, socio-cultural, and biological factors that influence health and well-being.