Volunteering in a health care-related setting will enhance your medical school application, but more importantly it’s a chance to see if you enjoy working in the medical field.
Where can I find out about opportunities?
If you are still in school, your first step should be to talk to your academic or pre-health advisor. Also, check to see if there is an office of community service or student activities on campus that can help connect you with a position. Be sure to join premed or service clubs since they’re one of the best ways to hear about volunteer openings, make friends, and find out about other opportunities for premeds. You can also contact hospitals, clinics, labs, research facilities, charities, foundations, or other organizations directly as many have volunteer opportunities listed online.
What types of volunteer experiences are best?
Although you’ll benefit from almost any type of volunteer experience, it’s best to find at least one health care-related opportunity. You want to search for something that genuinely interests you so that you’ll enjoy the experience, be motivated to stick with it, and learn from it. You may need to try a few different volunteer experiences until you discover one that will be a good long-term fit, but don’t do something just because you think it will look good to medical schools. When you talk about your experiences during medical school interviews, it will be easier if you’re passionate and invested in the volunteer work in which you’ve participated. Examples of volunteer experiences that current medical students listed on their medical school applications can be found on Anatomy of an Applicant. This resource showcases how your volunteer experiences can demonstrate the core competencies and make you stand out to admissions officers on your application.
Is it better to have one on-going experience, or many different experiences?
It’s good to have a variety of experiences, but it’s also important to show you’ve cultivated specific interests and are able to commit to an activity over a sustained period of time. You’re more likely to gain significant responsibilities or leadership roles if you volunteer with an organization regularly. This also helps you network and develop relationships with potential mentors and people who may potentially write your letters of recommendation.
What about non-medically-related experiences?
If you’re interested in something not related to medicine, don’t be afraid to pursue it. Most volunteer experiences are valuable and will provide you with well-rounded experiences. Just make sure you have at least one solid health care-related experience, in addition to your nonmedical volunteer work, so that your experiences speak to your commitment to medicine.
What’s the best way to maximize my opportunities during an experience?
“One thing that I always tell students is to make the most of the opportunity they participate in by advocating for themselves,” says Lisa Kooperman, assistant dean of studies and director of the Office for Fellowships and Pre-health Advising at Vassar College. “If they find themselves in a hospital for instance, pushing papers, I tell them to befriend a nurse, a PA, a radiologist... or other health care practitioner and ask if they can get more involved. Their motivation is likely to be met with some extra responsibilities that will get them more exposure and respect. It’s important to build relationships throughout the experience as a way of learning more about the field, and it can often lead to a strong letter of recommendation.”
How can I document these experiences?
It’s a good idea to maintain a resume that documents where and when you’ve volunteered to use as you continue to apply for new positions and programs. You’ll also want to track the number of hours you spend on each activity, and who supervised you, since the AMCAS application asks for this information for the 15 activates you choose to list. You can also keep a journal about your experiences to reference when it comes time to write your personal statements and essays for medical school. It never hurts to ask for a letter of recommendation if you’ve volunteered somewhere long enough for the writer to get to know you and your goals.