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Medical Competitions for High School Students

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If you are a high school student interested in a career in medicine or healthcare, earning recognition through a medical competition can help you stand out while connecting with accomplished peers and mentors. Medical competitions can take various forms, including research-based science fairs where judges select the top presentation boards, exam-based competitions in which participants are tested on their scientific knowledge, and more. Succeeding in a competition can enhance your preparation for a healthcare career by providing hands-on experience and learning opportunities. 

Opportunities for high school students to gain exposure to medical and healthcare professions can be limited due to the complex nature of working with human patients. However, students can use relevant competitions to advance and demonstrate their level of preparation for college and/or medical school. In addition, finalists often get to meet and learn from accomplished mentors from around the world while earning recognition and prizes in the form of cash awards and/or college tuition scholarships.

Medical competitions for high school students offer a range of exciting opportunities to explore various scientific fields. Participating in a science research competition or an academic competition like the National Science Bowl can help students hone their skills in subjects such as computer science and biomedical research. Events like the Science Olympiad and Chemistry Olympiad challenge students to apply their knowledge creatively and practically. Many of these competitions are part of a larger scholars program sponsored by prestigious institutions like the National Institute of Health.

Looking for more opportunities? High school students are eligible to participate in academic competitions in all kinds of subjects. View our full list of competitions for high school students here!

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Top Medical Competitions for High School Students

#1 USA Biolympiad (USABO)

Overview and purpose of the competition: The USA Biolympiad (USABO) is a multi-round national competition among biology students in the United States. The competition’s mission is to “to identify, inspire, empower, and support the next generation of life science leaders and to develop their international network.” The USABO also participates in the International Biology Olympiad (IBO), sending four gold medal winners from the national finals to compete at the IBO each summer.

Eligibility criteria and application process: High school students in grades 9-12 are eligible to participate in the competition. Competitors must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Students wishing to take part in the competition are required to register through their high schools. In many cases, groups of interested students organize official USABO clubs at their schools. Once the school itself is registered (for a fee of $95), any number of students can register for the first round of the exam.

The competition takes place over four rounds. The first round (or “open exam”) of the competition takes place entirely online via a 50-minute multiple-choice test. Participants must take the exam at their school or at another authorized USABO testing location. Students scoring in the top ten percent in the open exam are invited to the online semifinal round, a 2-hour test in 3 parts: short multiple-choice questions, complex multiple-choice questions with several steps of calculations, and a written portion of the test. Out of the semifinal round, the top 20 participants move on to the national finals. The final round of the USABO consists of a 2-week-long intensive course followed by 2 days of testing. Out of the national finalists, four gold medalists are selected to represent the United States at the IBO.

Benefits for participants: Firstly, all participants in the USABO benefit from the process of preparing for the various exams and studying the resources provided by the testing organization. These resources include scientific papers and journal articles on animal anatomy and physiology, cellular and molecular biology, genetics and evolution, plant anatomy and physiology, ecology, ethology, and biosystematics. National finalists also benefit from ten days of advanced instruction from university professors, as well as opportunities to build their network of peers and mentors in the life sciences.

#2 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)

About the competition: With more than 1600 participants last year, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is the largest STEM competition for high schoolers in the world. The program is based in the U.S., but contestants come from 60 to 75 countries annually. The goal of the competition is to support STEM research at the pre-college level. Each year, the Society for Science (the organizing body) awards cash prizes to the top contestants, including one college scholarship worth $75,000. 

Entry requirements and judging criteria: To enter the international competition, participants must first participate in an ISEF-affiliated science fair in their home state or country. Each local or regional fair may support a limited number of individual and team projects to participate in the ISEF competition. Affiliated fairs can be found using this search tool on the Society for Science website.

Teams may have up to three members, and all participants must be current high school students (grades 9-12), not middle school students. Each research project (individual or team) must also be joined by an adult sponsor. Participants must present their projects in the form of a display board and an abstract. Submission of research papers is recommended but not required.

Finalists who are selected to compete at Regeneron ISEF are responsible for choosing the competition category that best fits their project. The categories are:

  • Animal Sciences

  • Behavioral and Social Sciences

  • Biochemistry

  • Biomedical and Health Sciences

  • Biomedical Engineering

  • Cellular and Molecular Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Computational Biology and Bioinformatics

  • Earth and Environmental Sciences

  • Embedded Systems

  • Energy: Sustainable Materials and Design

  • Engineering Technology: Statics and Dynamics

  • Environmental Engineering

  • Materials Science

  • Mathematics

  • Microbiology

  • Physics and Astronomy

  • Plant Sciences

  • Robotics and Intelligent Machines

  • Systems Software

  • Technology Enhances the Arts

  • Translational Medical Science

Additionally, for students conducting medical research, the Biomedical and Health Sciences category is further divided into six sub-categories:

  • Cell, Organ, and Systems Physiology

  • Genetics and Molecular Biology of Disease

  • Immunology

  • Nutrition and Natural Products

  • Pathophysiology

  • Other

Awards and recognition: All ISEF participants receive a gold medal signifying their achievement of earning a place in the finals. In addition, within each of the 22 categories, four cash prizes are available:

  • 1st Award: $5,000 cash award

  • 2nd Award: $2,000 cash award

  • 3rd Award: $1,000 cash award

  • 4th Award: $500 cash award

Finally, the 22 1st Award recipients are considered for a Top Award:

  • George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award ($75,000) - 1 winner

  • Regeneron Young Scientist Awards ($50,000 each) - 2 winners

  • The Gordon E. Moore Award for Positive Outcomes for Future Generations ($50,000) - 1 winner

  • Craig R. Barrett Award for Innovation ($10,000) - 1 winner

  • Robert Horvitz Prize for Fundamental Research ($10,000) - 1 winner

  • Peggy Scripps Award for Science Communication ($10,000) - 1 winner

  • Dudley R. Herschbach SIYSS Award - 3 winners

  • EU Contest for Young Scientists Award - 2 winner

#3 HOSA – Future Health Professionals

Overview of HOSA and its events: Future Health Professionals, formerly known as Health Occupations Students of America, is a student-run organization promoting career readiness in healthcare fields. HOSA currently has more than 5,200 chapters and over 260,000 members around the world, including middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students, and adult professionals.

HOSA organizes competitions and events throughout the year to motivate and recognize excellence in its membership. Last year, HOSA organized 67 competitive events including high school competitions specific to Health Science (e.g., Behavioral Health, Dental Terminology, and Nutrition) and Health Professions topics (e.g., Biomedical Laboratory Science, Sports Medicine, and Clinical Nursing), in addition to competitions around Emergency Preparedness, Leadership, and Teamwork.

How to join and participate: In order to participate in a HOSA-organized competition, you must be affiliated as a member in good standing with your local HOSA chapter. If there is a chapter at your school, contact the chapter advisor. If there is no chapter at your school, consider starting one!

Opportunities and benefits: Preparing for and competing in HOSA events connects students to motivated peers and mentors in health science fields. In addition to the improved health science and professional knowledge they develop from studying for the events, participants also receive college and career preparation resources. Beyond their competitions, HOSA organizes state conferences in the fall and spring semesters.

Want to set yourself up for a successful healthcare career? Check out our article on how high schoolers can prepare for careers in healthcare.

#4 International Brain Bee (IBB)

About the competition: The International Brain Bee (IBB) is a neuroscience competition for high school students. Since its inception in 1998, the goal of the program has been to inspire teenagers to pursue careers as neuroscientists. 

Eligibility and competition structure: The competition is open to teenagers (ages 13-19). Similar to other international competitions, the IBB has a tiered, multi-round structure. The process begins with participation in a local brain bee event, which usually consists of oral and written exams (preparation materials are provided by the bee). The top students from local events move on to the national bee round, where winners are selected to compete in the IBB.

Benefits of participation: Beyond immersing themselves in neuroscience research, participants in the IBB join a collaborative community of students and mentors who are passionate about the brain. 

Are you a high school student who is curious about neuroscience? For more neuroscience programs like the IBB, check out our article on neuroscience competitions for high school students. You may also be interested in the best cancer research competitions for high schoolers. If you want to pursue cancer research as a vocation, explore the best schools for cancer research to strive for.

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#5 American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) DNA Day Essay Contest

Overview of the essay contest: The Annual DNA Day Essay Contest, supported by the American Society of Human Genetics, encourages students to think critically about significant questions in the field of genetics in the form of an argumentative essay. For example, in 2024, participants were prompted to “Provide an example of how the interplay of genetics and environment can shape human health.” 

Submission guidelines: The essay contest is open to all individual students in grades 9-12. Essays must be submitted anonymously, be no longer than 750 words excluding the bibliography (which must be in MLA or APA style), and must be submitted before the deadline (March 6, 2024).

Judging criteria: The competition judges award points in the following four categories:

  • Overall accuracy of the science content

  • Use of evidence in support of an argument/answer; essay well-focused on the question/topic selected

  • Writing quality (clear thesis, composition, grammar, syntax, spelling)

  • References and citations (quality and appropriateness)

Rewards and recognition: 13 cash prizes are awarded in amounts ranging from $100-$1000. In addition to their awards, the top three essayists also earn an equal amount of grant money for their high school to purchase genetics teaching materials. Winning an essay competition on a medical topic can also enhance a student's academic profile and provide valuable experience in scientific writing.

#6 Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)

Overview of the competition: The Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) is a research competition open to high school seniors. It is the oldest high school science competition in the United States. Last year, more than 1,800 students submitted their research to the contest. The mission of the STS is to empower and identify future leaders in STEM fields. Categories include (but are not limited to) Medicine and Health, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Genomics, and Neuroscience.

Eligibility and submission process: The STS is open to all high school seniors living in the United States. Participants submit a research report detailing an independent project conducted during high school. Guidelines for the research report can be downloaded here. The submission deadline is November 7, 2024 at 8:00 PM US Eastern Time. 

Prizes and opportunities for finalists: 300 monetary awards are available, ranging from $2,000 (for the 300 semifinalists), to $25,000 (for the top 30 finalists), and all the way up to $250,000 (for the top prize winner). In addition, the 300 semifinalists each receive $2,000 grants for their schools. Finally, STS flies the top 30 finalists to Washington, D.C., to present their projects to the judges in person.

#7 Conrad Challenge

Introduction to the Conrad Challenge: The Conrad Challenge is a team-based innovation and entrepreneurship competition open to students 13-18 years old. The goal of the challenge is to encourage young innovators by simulating the entrepreneurial process. The Conrad Foundation, which organizes the contest, aims to connect students and mentors for real-world learning opportunities in STEM fields.

Competition structure and entry requirements: The competition accepts entries in four different categories:

  • Health and Nutrition

  • Energy and Environment

  • Aerospace and Aviation

  • Cyber-Technology and Security

The whole process is broken down into four stages, simulating a real-world project :

  1. Activation Stage: in this first step, participants form a team of 2-5 students and find a coach or mentor to guide them.

  2. Lean Canvas Stage: the second step of the process starts with brainstorming ideas. After ideating a list of several possible innovations, teams select their best idea to move forward to stage 3.

  3. Innovation Stage: in this stage, participants flesh out the details of their innovations, including a proposed business plan. At this point, contestants submit their progress to a panel of judges who will select the finalists to advance to the final stage. The scoring guide is available for download here.

  4. Power Pitch Stage: this stage takes place in person at the Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit. In addition to pitching their ideas to the judges, finalists connect with the other competitors and experts from around the world.

Benefits and prizes: All finalists get to connect with one another and with expert speakers at the Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit. In addition, the top teams are named Pete Conrad Scholars and receive prizes such as college scholarships and laptops.

How to Prepare for Medical Competitions

Tips for effective preparation: Preparing effectively for medical competitions requires patience and consistent motivation. While there is no shortcut method to placing at the top, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you prepare to compete.

  • Start early. Getting a head start has an enormous positive effect when preparing for medical competitions. We recommend beginning your preparations up to one year in advance of the competition date in order to ensure a positive and rewarding experience.

  • Utilize the materials and resources that the competition provides. Many exam-format competitions break down exactly which topics to expect on the day of the exam, and some even provide study packets and practice tests from previous years’ exams. For science-fair competitions, most fairs provide a helpful rubric detailing their scoring criteria for presentations.

  • Make a schedule and stick to it. When it comes to exam-based medical competitions, the sheer amount of material to study can be daunting. Don’t let the reading overwhelm you: to keep your study plans on track, make a plan of which topics to study and review each week. If possible, align the amount of time that you alot for each subject with the number of test questions on that subject. For instance the USA Biolympiad states that biosystematics only make up 5% of test questions, while 20% of questions pertain to cellular and molecular biology. If you are competing in a research-based science fair, plan in advance when you will conduct your experiments. Leave several weeks of wiggle room in case you need to re-do a portion of your experimental method.

Scientific research is constantly evolving. To ensure that your own research is original and relevant to the medical field, it is important to familiarize yourself with recently published papers and journal articles related to your research topic. Research the top medical journals for high school students to support your findings! Conducting this sort of literature review is an excellent first step for a medical research project.

To contribute to the field of medical research as a high schooler, we recommend working with an experienced mentor. Mentors can guide you throughout the entire process as you choose a research topic, find relevant papers to review, design and tweak your experimental methods, analyze your data, and communicate your results in the form of an abstract, scholarly article, and/or presentation board.

Not sure where to find a mentor? Polygence can match you with experienced medical mentors and researchers. Get to know Polygence’s mentors online, like Shauna, Naedum, Freddy, Michael, and Allyson.

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Next Steps with Polygence

Participating in high school medical competitions is a challenging but rewarding process. If you are still looking for a mentor to guide you along the stages for successfully preparing and competing, Polygence can match you with a medical expert who is passionate about helping students interested in medicine and healthcare.

The Polygence Core Program lets you connect with your mentor for ten one-on-one sessions. Over the course of the program, you’ll develop and complete an individual project with the support and guidance of an experienced medical researcher. Polygence students have conducted research on Alzheimer’s Disease, Nutrition, access to cancer treatment, and more.

Ready to start your project? Connect with us here!