Why joining an academic society is important

Updated: Aug 2

By Nora Palmer


One mantra which has served me well in my experience as a medical student has been “Keep thinking ahead- what is your next step?”. I know this might feel incredibly overwhelming: you have just managed to conquer the hurdle of getting into medical school (big pat on the back) then you’re straight back into thinking about the next obstacle coming around the corner. Sorry guys, that’s medicine. But it’s always beneficial to start asking yourself early in your medical school career: What specialities do I like? What society should I join? How can I start to build up my portfolio as a medical student?

Invariably, joining an academic society (particularly in a speciality that you might be considering) is a good idea. Nowadays, there seems to be an unending crop of fantastic societies at medical school and being part of a society opens doors to building up an amazing portfolio. Even if you haven’t decided on a particular speciality (don’t worry, most people haven’t) look for more general societies e.g. Research, MedTech, Surgical, Medical Education societies etc, because these will give you transferable skills for whichever pathway you choose. During the pre-clinical years, students generally have more spare time – so start looking early and make the most of it!

Some examples of how you can make the most of being part of an academic society:

  • Organise a teaching event for other medical students

  • Fundraise for a charity that’s important to you

  • Make contacts with doctors in the speciality that you’re interested in to help with events/teaching

  • Speak to other committee members about their experiences, application pathway etc

  • Learning skills in communicating with others, leadership, teamwork, organisation

NB: These are all things that will help get you points on your application to speciality training!

I decided to join the ophthalmology society at Manchester University because of my interest in becoming an ophthalmologist. It’s a small, close-knit society, in which everyone has the opportunity to voice ideas. I’ve gained so much valuable experience as a society member and was lucky enough to be president during my 4th year. It’s something that I’m very proud of. If you’re at all interested in ophthalmology (as it’s the best speciality, obviously), look out for the ophthalmology society at your medical school.

One last piece of advice: Don’t commit to too much - make sure you have enough time for studies and a life outside of medicine. It’s more about the quality of the roles you take on rather than quantity. Even if you only join one society, but show lots of passion and energy by helping organise lots of events and working your way up through the ranks to a senior committee position, this is far more impressive than having lots of roles in different societies with little to show for it. And if you don’t like any of the societies on offer at your medical school – start your own! It shows entrepreneurship and looks impressive on a CV.

Being part of a society and finding your proverbial “tribe” at medical school is a great tool to help you navigate the hectic, but wonderful world of medicine. So, take the time to look around and find yours too.


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