Clinical Distinction

Your future, by you

Resources For Reaching Competence: Project Ideas and Activities

Activities make up the work of your Clinical Distinction Project.

Activities are the resources you use to reach your learning outcomes and sometimes to create your assessment tools.

Types of Activities

There are as many different activities as there are students but they fall into three general categories:

Independent Study or Scholarship
Relational but not Clinical

Within each of the three categories there are many many options:


  • Independent study Online modules
  • Research*
  • Reading
  • Literature reviews
  • Software or hardware development
  • Writing
  • Artistic endeavors
  • Physical development activities


  • Clerkship style
  • Observing advanced clinical activities
  • Research*
  • Patient questionnaires or research
  • Global Health Program activities
  • Patient advocate activities


  • Work outside health field with people
  • Questionnaires*
  • Community service
  • Observation outside of medical settings
  • Presentations or teaching the public
  • Curriculum or educational projects

These are just some examples of the activities that fall into the three primary categories.

For any specialty project activities from any of these three primary categories can be combined. There is no limit to the types of activities that can be chosen.

* *Research can fall into any of the above categories.

What are the implications of the type of activities?

Selecting your types of activities allows you and your CD Course Director to better assess what paperwork and approvals you need before your project starts.

It also impacts who your faculty sponsor might be.

  • Clinical activities require site or preceptor credentialing or accreditation
  • Research may require an IRB and research proposal approval*
  • Clinical activities allow entrustment decisions:

  • Different activities can be better assessed by different faculty sponsors.

*Does the Project Include Research?

Doing research can be part of a clinical activity, or a non clinical activity. It can include literature searches, or questionnaires outside of healthcare setting. But any time research includes human subjects it is possible you will need IRB approval.

In order to determine if you need IRB approval, you can consult several resources:

Common Misconceptions

Myth: Some students think they can only do one type of activity – like just an elective, or just research.

Fact: The Clinical Distinction Specialty Track is what you make it- you can do almost anything and you certainly can do clinical activities with other types of activities.

Myth: If a student does clinical activities it’s a clerkship track

Fact: What makes a Specialty Track NOT a clerkship is that it is student-directed, includes a contract and evaluation form, and is featured in your MSPE. The activities can absolutely be clinical.

Myth: Some students think Clinical Distinction is a period of independent study.

Fact: While the Clinical Distinction Specialty track may include independent study, the course always includes collaboration with a sponsor whose critical evaluation is featured in your MSPE. If you spend the month studying alone and don’t engage your sponsor they can’t give you an authentic evaluation

Myth: When choosing their activity, many students think: I must do something in the area of residency I’m interested in.

Fact: The best-designed course demonstrates self-reflection and growth in the CORE COMPETENCIES OF MEDICINE – these apply to every specialty so the specialty area of medicine is secondary.

Myth: Some students think they must have research to be competitive. All specialties are different. Be sure you speak with a mentor or course director who can tell you if your “research” plan will actually make your project distinctive.

Fact: Demonstrating how you are uniquely passionate and creative about something is often more interesting to a residency director than a month of research.

Need Help Finding Ideas?

In this section you will find lots of “idea pages” which contain, topics, activity resources and even some faculty sponsors to help you design your specialty project. Most of these idea pages are intended to get you started in the creative process – not dictate a course of study or project. Your interests, your learning style and your level of creativity will determine how you will use these pages.

Just Ideas

These ideas have been suggested by faculty (which means they’d probably be happy to work with you if you select them) but no resources are posted here:

  • Occupational Medicine – Dr. Alesia Wagner
  • Advocacy and Professional Involvement  – utilizing legislators, OPSC, AOA, ACOFP national and state – Dr. Alesia Wagner
  • Ethics and Professionalism – Dr. Weiss (on sabbatical from February 1- July 1)
  • Biodynamic Osteopathy – Dr. Weiss (on sabbatical from February 1- July 1)


These idea pages have have great resources:

Resources with Excited Faculty Sponsors

These idea pages have strong faculty support: