Typically sooner than later, all pre-medical students will hear that besides a good GPA and MCAT score, you need:
to boost your medical school application.
It can seem overwhelming at first, having mind-boggling questions like, when will I have time for this? How do I do all of this? Where can I find these opportunities?
This is the final of the three-part blog series in which I published to explain how I was able to get these opportunities and to give some advice about strategies in how to obtain these key experiences.
*DISCLAIMER: These experiences are to grow you as a student, an aspiring physician, and most importantly, a patient advocate. Do not go into this process and have the mindset of treating this as a checklist for your resumé. Be patient with the process, and enjoy the journey.
Most likely, you have already been volunteering since high school to fulfill requirements for National Honor Society or to boost your college application or just out of the goodness of your heart, whether it’s at your church or at your school, grading papers for your favorite teacher.
As much as you’ve worked hard on getting those hours in high school, none of them count anymore once you enter college. You are at a clean slate with the rest of your class. And, once you declare yourself as a pre-medical student, volunteering will require just a little bit more from you than it did in the past.
Where do I start?
Straight from the mouth of a full-time dermatologist and UTSW Admissions Board member, there are two types of volunteering that medical schools usually look for:
- Volunteering at Medical Facilities: of course they want to see that you are getting experience in helping the medical community in any way you can. Ideally, you should have 100 hours of volunteering at medical facilities. Medical facilities include, but are not limited to:
- local clinics
- urgent care clinics
- emergency rooms
- Community Service: in addition to volunteering at medical facilities, they also want to see you serving the community, because as a doctor, you are not just an advocate to your patients but for the world, as well. You must have compassion and patience, and a great way to build and solidify these traits is to serve the community. Again, although it is not written in stone (I am simply relaying information from a medical school admissions board member), you should ideally have 100 hours of community service, which is different from your hours from volunteering at medical facilities. You can volunteer at places, such as:
- animal shelters
- food banks
- clothing drives
- homeless shelters
- any type of shelter
- dance studios
- anywhere that you can help in which will benefit somebody for the good of society
What experience would I get or expect from volunteering at a medical facility?
Of course, it would depend on the type of medical facility you are in, but for hospitals, you will get to see the operational scenes in motion. By operational, I don’t mean you volunteer in the operating room. What I mean is, based on my experience, you will be answering phone calls at the front desk, organizing paper work, interacting with patients by delivering them mail, flowers, blankets, newspapers, etc.; you will also be interacting with their families by making sure they get to the right place and are comfortable in the Day Surgery waiting area (you might even be the one checking them in); you will be doing light maintenance work, such as making sure there’s enough coffee on every floor, enough gloves at every station, replacing the newspapers, organizing magazines in the lobby, and more. Most importantly, however, you would gain more practice with how to professionally and formally interact with people. You can be the smartest seed of them all, but if you do not know how to talk to and empathize with people, you will not succeed in the medical field.
How can I be a volunteer?
For hospitals and most medical facilities, go online first and see if they have an application available. If not, give them a call and ask if they are taking in volunteers at this time. If they are and the application is not available online, you will have to drive to that facility and tell the main front desk you are interested in being part of the volunteering team and would like an application. For volunteering for the community, you would most likely have to go to the place you would want to volunteer (i.e., animal shelter), say you want to help, and go from there. From personal experience, e-mails typically do not work in this case.
What is the process of becoming a volunteer?
It varies. For every hospital I have volunteered for, I had to complete an application, be interviewed, go to orientation, and complete training to get my badge and uniform.
200 hours might seem daunting, but it is possible and can get really fun. I do have more than 100 hours of volunteering at medical facilities and am still working on reaching 100 hours of community service. For me, I stopped making it about the hours and just truly focused on building relationships with the people I work with and help. Volunteering is a stress-reliever and should never be a burden.
Here are some maiuseful tips:
- start ASAP! I started volunteering as a freshman in my first semester of college. Your freshman year is the perfect time to start racking up on volunteer hours because it will be your easiest year in college (yes, it only gets harder from there).
- breathe. if you end up not having 100 hours for each type of volunteering, it is NOT the end of the world. That will not dictate whether you get into medical school or not.
- as far as scheduling goes and as much as it may suck to wake up early, do as many morning shifts as you can because this is the way you will not feel like you could be doing something else, like studying (because no one studies at 5 am in the morning – yes I volunteer at 5 am in the morning).
- make the most out of it. Network. Talk to nurses and doctors when you can, and talk to patients when you can. You will hear a lot of interesting stories that will touch your heart and motivate you if you play your cards right.
GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY VOLUNTEERING!
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.