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The pre-med undergraduate who leads Penn’s Medical Emergency Response Team is not spending his summer in a lab or at a hospital.

Although dozens of pre-meds return to campus or go to other institutions to work as research assistants during the summer months, medical schools do not require summer research. Other activities that speak to the student’s work ethic are just as important.

“Research is the typical pre-med summer activity but there are other ways to prepare for medical school,” rising College senior and MERT Chief Max Presser said in an email. This summer, Presser is working as the ropes coordinator at Camp Harlam, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Kunkletown, Pa.

“Working at a summer camp will allow me to work on my leadership skills as I will be overseeing and managing a group of staff members,” Presser said.

Gail Morrison, the vice dean for education at the Perelman School of Medicine, confirmed that any activity that develops a skill set is acceptable for a pre-medical student’s summer.

“I think the most important thing for students to know is not to jump around,” Morrison said. She emphasized that pre-meds simply need to choose a summer commitment in which they are “developing their expertise.”

“That’s sort of what many medical schools are looking for and sort of why they like research,” Morrison said. She noted that students who try to split their summer among several activities generally struggle to talk about what they learned during medical school interviews.

However, it is not usually detrimental to a medical school application if a pre-med spends the summer exploring interests outside of the clinical fields.

“It’s fine to go intern in a legal office. That’s what you’re expected to do as an undergrad,” Associate Director of Career Services Carol Hagan, who is also a pre-health advisor, said.

Still, she advised that showing an interest in medicine through summer work is important. “I think it is a little questionable if at some point every summer, you’re not doing something related to medicine,” Hagan stated.

Sarah Huepenbecker, a 2012 College graduate and current student at the Medical School, only did research during her senior year and only as it related to her thesis.

During the summers, Huepenbecker worked at home in Minnesota, went abroad and took classes at Penn.

Regardless, she was admitted to medical school directly after her senior year.

“I kind of did a different thing every summer,” she said. “If there was anything I could say to pre-meds, [it would be] do anything you really care about.”

Morrison and Hagan reiterated that doing something that truly holds a student’s interest is the most important thing.

Doing nothing is not an option, though. “I would never suggest that somebody lie on the couch every summer watching TV,” Hagan concluded.

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