Orientation week in medical school is a long-anticipated event in most aspiring physician’s lives. It simultaneously marks the longed-for culmination of the stressful , and the beginning of an exciting new phase – med school! Medical schools use the orientation week to introduce students to the expectations and responsibilities of the medical profession, while also providing them with all the information they need about their new program, curriculum, faculty, medical school campus, etc.
In this blog, we will discuss the top ten activities most likely to be included during orientation week in medical schools.
Listen to the blog!
For a new student, orientation week in medical school is the first step into an exciting new world. Rather than plunging students cold into their new curriculum and classes, most med schools host a week-long program of activities designed to welcome students to their new campus and equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their new environment.
The structure of orientation week in medical schools varies depending on the university in question. Some schools, like Albert Einstein College of Medicine, host an activity-intensive 6-day program to introduce and acclimate students to the social, financial, academic, and professional dimensions of their new life. Others, such as , host a simple one-day orientation with a few lectures and social events, followed by optional activities on the remaining days of orientation week.
Medical school orientation can be a week of great learning, exploration, and stimulation, but it can also be overwhelming! You can go through our list below to get a better idea of common welcome activities in medical school and how to navigate them.
Effective communication and teamwork are essential skills for med school students. That’s why most med schools look for applicants who demonstrate these qualities through their listed in the . That’s also why many medical school orientation weeks include team-building activities to help students work on these essential skills. For medical schools, including such activities is a clear way to indicate to students that while in medical school, they need to work on the soft skills required for the medical profession as well as their academics and field training.
These activities typically take the form of fun, interactive, group-based activities and games designed to encourage students to work with one another towards a common goal. Some schools include a whole day’s activities or a getaway such as a camping trip. The University of Michigan Medical School has an interesting program called Creating Adventurous and Mindful Physicians (CAMP), a student-led wilderness orientation for new medical students. Conducted by current medical students, it gives the incoming students a chance to work on their communication, community building, and team work skills in a relaxing outdoor setting.
These types of welcome activities in medical school are not graded in any way – they’re simply a way to encourage student interaction and group bonding for the new batch of students. Try to relax and enjoy these fun activities as much as possible, as they provide an important break from the otherwise hectic pace of orientation week.
Almost every medical school orientation week will include a range of different social events to help students get to know each other, and to help them explore the campus and meet their seniors and faculty members. Such events are crucial as they help students network, form lasting bonds, and create effective support systems that they will need to get through the challenging and often grueling years of medical school ahead of them. Social events during medical school orientation weeks could range from informal gatherings such as mixers, barbecues, and picnics, to formal dinners and buffets, to activity-based events such as sports games, treasure hunts, or boat cruises.
Some schools, such as , choose to combine social events with team-building activities via an outdoor camping trip with a roster of both team-building and “get to know each other” activities. Others, such as the , intersperse socialization events throughout the orientation week, scheduling breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and picnics before or after the formal orientation lectures and workshops.
It’s important to use these social events to make friends with your classmates and to identify helpful mentors among older students or faculty members. This is the right forum to start building the networks that will support you through medical school and beyond.
A crucial component of any medical school orientation week is the program or curriculum overview. You’ll receive everything you need to get familiar with your future course load, including detailed curriculum programs and student policy handbooks. You’ll also receive all the supplies and materials you might already have paid for, which you will need through med school, from lab supplies to school merchandise. Schools like Penn Medicine and even give every new med student an iPad!
Some schools choose to conduct one or more sessions to walk students through a map of their next four years along with a brief overview of the program aims and vision. Others combine the “Welcome” or “Introduction” session with a curriculum overview. These sessions are usually completed in the first couple of days, so that students have the content they need to move forward to other activities and prepare for their first week of classes.
A lot of medical schools include formally structured learning sessions to tackle key introductory topics that will provide a useful knowledge base for students going into their first week of med school classes. These can include lectures, workshops, forums, discussions, and other learning sessions, conducted by faculty members or expert guest lecturers. Topics range from general medical themes such as an overview of clinical medicine, developing your professional identity, and core medical school competencies, to addressing specific skills relevant for the medical profession such as reflective writing, communication, problem-solving, first-aid, and so on.
These welcome activities in medical school are typically tailored to reflect the vision and core philosophy of the medical school. For instance, at Northwestern , orientation week is termed “Introduction to the Profession” and focuses on introducing students to the themes of professionalism and professional identity that are crucial to their future as practicing physicians. During this week, students learn about key issues such as medical ethics, communication and teamwork, patient safety, and wellness and self-care via lectures and interactive learning sessions.
Such uniquely structured orientation weeks seek to adequately prepare students for the distinctive medical school experience awaiting them at their new campus. Students can take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about what’s expected of them and how they can build the key skills and knowledge they need to succeed at medical school.
Currently working through the medical school application process? Check out this video for 3 tips to help you stand out!
While activities fairs are more commonly seen at undergrad orientation weeks, some medical schools also choose to add this to their orientation week roster of activities. Most medical schools have a wide range of clubs and student groups, both medical and non-medical, and they encourage their med students to get involved in extracurricular activities in their spare time. An activities fair hosts stalls from all the clubs and groups on the medical school campus. It’s an excellent opportunity for new students to explore different options for extracurriculars they could potentially participate in. It is a good idea to cultivate non-academic interests as a hobby or a break from the rigorous academics of medical school; additionally, extracurricular groups look impressive on a .
One of the most symbolically significant and meaningful welcome activities in medical schools is the white coat ceremony. It typically involves faculty members or distinguished guests who cloak each new med student in the physician’s white coat. This donning of the white coat is a symbolic gesture that holds tremendous emotional resonance for new students. It’s about accepting and honoring the professionalism, empathy, compassion, and responsibilities that are a crucial part of their future profession. Students are encouraged to invite their family and proud guests to witness this important event, which usually occurs at the end of orientation week, as a kind of initiation for the students into their new life and responsibilities. It is treated similar to a graduation ceremony, with a formal dress code, buffet lunch, and formal guest speakers and/or a dean’s address.
The white coat ceremony was first performed at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1993 but today, most medical schools include it as the final event of their orientation week. Some schools also include the Hippocratic Oath as part of this ceremony while others prefer to defer the oath for the graduation ceremony. Some medical schools include their own special customizations; for example, at the University of Louisville School of Medicine white coat ceremony, students recite the Declaration of Geneva.
One of the evenings during medical school orientation week is usually dedicated for the dean’s reception. This is a formal dinner or buffet meal hosted by the dean of the medical school, where students get the chance to mingle and network with medical school faculty members, students ahead of them at medical school, distinguished alumni, and other important guests.
A key feature of the evening is the Dean’s address, a motivational speech designed to welcome students to their new campus and inspire them as they embark on the challenging journey to becoming practicing physicians. Some schools may choose to invite distinguished guests or successful alumni to deliver inspirational speeches for the benefit of the new students.
The dean’s reception can take place at any point during the orientation week. Many schools choose to keep it closer to the end of the week, as a formal celebration and culmination of all that students have learnt during the week. For instance, the University of Florida College of Medicine ends their orientation week with the dean’s reception while others like chose to schedule the dean’s reception towards the end of the week, prior to the white coat ceremony.
Promoting diversity, inclusion, and equity on their medical school campus is a priority for all universities today, and you’ll find that most med schools have a separate office dedicated for this cause. In recent years, many med schools have opted to expand the scope of their orientation week to include activities related to diversity. This includes diversity and/or sensitivity training, seminars and lectures centered around inclusivity, community engagement workshops, and more. These events are typically organized by the school’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and seek to promote the school’s core values of non-discrimination and cultural harmony via meaningful activities.
has one of the most unique diversity training programs as part of their orientation week. Apart from their usual orientation activities, they also conduct the Differences Matter Orientation as part of their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion at every level. Students work with coaches in small groups to identify biases and disparities in the medical system and improve their own cross-cultural communication skills.
Some schools, such as , conduct receptions hosted by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to welcome students from diverse backgrounds. This gives students the chance to get familiar with support resources and networks, and mingle with important faculty members.
The mental health and wellness of medical students as well as physicians has become a growing concern in recent years. With high incidence of burn-outs amongst physicians, many med schools are choosing to expand the scope of the mental health and well-being resources available to med school students, including on-campus access to emergency services. As part of their commitment to helping their students and future physicians stay healthy and fit, many schools are opting to add wellness activities to their orientation week.
Some schools choose to conduct seminars or workshops focused on best practices for mental health and physical well-being. For instance, conducts a Health and Well-Being Panel as part of their welcome activities for medical school. The panel focuses on how to strike a healthy work-life balance and introduces students to all the mental health support they have available on their medical school campus. Many schools include optional wellness sessions, usually scheduled as the first event of the day, to help students learn wellness and mindfulness practices like yoga that will help them cope with the stress of medical school. At the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, the orientation week includes daily optional 15-minute wellness sessions, along with lectures about nutritious eating and student wellness.
Such sessions and lectures encourage students to take their own health and well-being as seriously as their patients’, and ultimately contribute to a more vibrant, healthy medical school campus life.
A lot of medical schools seek to tailor their orientation week activities to reflect their unique vision and philosophy. The purpose of orientation week is to introduce students to the medical school campus they are to be a part of for the next few years, and that includes not just the academics but every aspect of campus life. For instance, many schools that have a focus on community service and outreach as part of their med school curriculum want to introduce students to such activities during orientation. To that end, they organize service projects, seminars, or events to help familiarize students with the service and community work commitments of their program.
These may be mixers or events to introduce students to the local communities, mini service projects to give them a first-hand experience of the kind of work they are expected to do, or workshops on the importance of community service as part of medicine. For instance, Indiana University School of Medicine conducts a service project as part of their orientation week activities. This project is sponsored by the Medical Student Service Learning Group, which also conducts the medical service learning program as part of their med school curriculum. This service project during orientation week seeks to introduce students to the service objectives, including community partnership and civic engagement, that are a key part of their future curriculum.
While Indiana University includes this as a mandator requirement, other schools often include the service project as an optional activity. The University at Buffalo Medical School has an optional “Day of Service” as part of their orientation week, where students have the option to sign up for one of several mini service projects involving the local Buffalo community.
Besides the above activities, most medical school orientation weeks will include logistical activities to help you get settled into the new campus, such as paperwork sessions for IDs and badges, financial aid overview sessions, campus tours, and so on. You’ll also have to go through orientation formalities such as drug screening and background checks, along with taking class pictures and ID photos.
While orientation week can seem like a mad flurry of activities, lectures, workshops, and events, it’s important to stay calm and make the most of every opportunity you’re given. Make sure you socialize and network with your new classmates, senior students, and faculty members, and use this crucial time to get oriented about the campus geography and curriculum requirements. Remember, once the course load of med school starts, you won’t have a moment to breath!
1. What activities can I expect during a medical school orientation week?
Most medical school orientation weeks include a roster of welcome activities designed to introduce students to their new campus, give them information about the med school curriculum, and prepare them for their new profession. Common welcome activities in medical school include team-building events, social events, program or curriculum overview sessions, lectures and workshops related to the field of medicine, activities fair, diversity training, wellness activities, service projects, the dean’s reception, and the white coat ceremony. They also include logistical activities to help you get ready for your life on campus, such as completing paperwork for your ID, campus tours, financial aid overview sessions, etc. Every medical school has its own schedule and program that will include a combination of some or all of the above activities.
2. What should I wear for the various events during my medical school orientation week?
That depends on the activities in question! For the informal activities such as campus tours, team-building activities, welcome picnics, etc. it’s best to dress in comfortable, casual clothes. However, if you’re attending lectures and workshops, it might be a better idea to dress as you would for your future medical school lectures. While you don’t have to bring out your formal jackets, it’s better to leave the shorts and trackpants behind and opt for more appropriate clothing. Remember that many medical schools invite distinguished guests to deliver orientation week lectures and conduct sessions. You don’t want to be walking in to their sessions wearing flowery shorts while everyone else is in shirts! Finally, there are a few events where you will be expected to dress in formal clothing. That includes the white coat ceremony and the dean’s address. Don’t worry - you will typically be given an indication ahead of time by the school if the dress code is formal for any event.
3. How can I make the most of my medical school orientation week?
Your medical school orientation week is an excellent opportunity for you to get familiar with the campus, make friends, find mentors, and get acclimated to your new profession and the rigors of med school. Make sure you look up the orientation week schedule ahead of time, so you can plan out your days, see what events are mandatory, and be ready for the various events in terms of dress code and other logistics.
You’ll meet a lot of fellow students as well as extremely important people such as the dean, faculty members, distinguished alumni, etc. This can all be a bit intimidating, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to network.
Some welcome activities may be optional, but you should ideally try and attend all of them, even the informal socialization events or service mini-projects. Remember that you will need friends, and a reliable support system, to make it through the rigors of med school. Orientation week get-togethers, lunches, dinners, barbeques, and picnics are where life-long friendships can be formed. And they are also an opportunity for you to relax and enjoy your campus before plunging into the hectic med school curriculum!
Finally, make sure you go for all the campus tours and use your free time during orientation week to explore the campus and learn the geography. That way, you won’t be so lost and confused when classes start.
4. How can I network during medical school orientation week?
During your med school orientation week, formal events present an excellent networking opportunity, and you should definitely try and talk to the faculty members, alumni, and other important guests at such events. Introduce yourself to as many people as possible and use this chance to form important connections.
Some schools also host specific socialization and team-building events to introduce the new class to the sophomore, junior, and senior med school students. These students can be excellent peer mentors and can provide invaluable assistance to help make your med school life a bit easier, from answering your questions to helping you navigate the campus. And later, during med school, you’ll definitely need a support system that you can turn to for help with classes, exams, projects, extracurriculars, and so on. Make sure you talk to as many seniors as possible so you can make a few friends!
5. What is the white coat ceremony?
The white coat ceremony is a symbolically significant ceremony in which new medical students are given the “white coat” of a doctor to initiate them into their new profession. This event typically takes place at the end of medical school orientation week, and students are encouraged to invite their family, friends, or any other guests as they would for graduation ceremonies. It’s usually a formal event, with a sit-down or buffet dinner, a dean’s address, and important guest speakers. Many schools also ask students to recite the Hippocratic oath as part of the ceremony.
6. How can I make a good impression at my medical school orientation week?
If you want to make a positive impression during med school orientation week, first of all, be present! Don’t skip any of the events and make sure you enthusiastically participate in every planned activity. And while you should definitely enjoy yourself at the social events and try to make friends, don’t over-indulge in alcohol, or break any campus rules – that would definitely leave a poor impression! Make sure you’re friendly and polite, and engage with your fellow students as well as your tour guides, senior students, faculty members, etc. And finally, make full use of each event to gather all the information you need to do well in med school – faculty members won’t appreciate you chasing them with questions that were already covered during your orientation week.