Make the Most of Your Hospital Volunteer Experience

February 8, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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One of the best ways to build an effective medical school application is to obtain a hospital volunteer experience.  Spending a few hours each week volunteering in a hospital setting will ultimately result a higher paycheck later down the career road.  Here are some ways that you can make the most of that hospital volunteer experience:

Getting the job

The benefits of volunteering at a hospital begin even before you’ve stepped foot in the building.  Learning how to find volunteer work is a valuable experience with transferable skills.  Begin by researching the hospitals you’d like to work in – you may find message boards and social media posts which reveal insights into what it’s like working at a particular hospital.  You may discover in your search that the most well known hospital in your area treats its volunteer staff poorly, and you might discover that hidden gem which ultimately is the ideal hospital in which to volunteer your time.  Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, reach out and make contact with the volunteer department. At this point, you will hone your professional interview skills; just because you are volunteering doesn’t mean that the screening process isn’t thorough.  Be prepared to explain why a particular hospital is the right one for you and how you plan to contribute to their patient care work. The beginning stage of the hospital volunteer experience is a great time to learn how to research, interview, and present your most professional and serious self. 

Community volunteering at the orphanage in Morogoro, TanzaniaWorking well with your colleagues

As a volunteer, you’ll find yourself low in the hospital hierarchy. You’ll be paying your dues early on as you learn how to work in a fast-paced, urgent setting. Pay attention to how medical professionals interact with each other and those who are above and below them on the pay scale.  These interactions offer insight into the structure of the hospital setting and how you will fit into it as your career progresses.  Be as accommodating as possible to the demands of the work, and ask questions so that your work is done correctly and professionally. Be friendly with the other volunteers at the hospital. They are your peers and a source of support and knowledge.

Perfecting patient care

During your hospital volunteer experience, you will begin to learn what it means to provide excellent patient care.  This will come in theform of observing nurses and physicians as well as directly if you develop into an advanced hospital volunteer.  As a beginner, you will beasked to complete a variety of standard volunteer work, including working in reception, performing clerical duties, cleaning up public areasof the hospital, and transporting hospital-related items around the facility.  You will also visit with patients, and here is where you will learn how to interact with a diverse hospital population.  You will meet, greet, and converse with patients of all ages, races, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds.  If you are used to living and working in a homogeneous environment, this plethora of diversity will allow you expand your horizons and teach you how to get along with all types of people, the kind that are likely to be your future patients.

Is a medical career right for you?

Medical work experience students in TanzaniaShortly into the tenure of your first hospital volunteer experience, you are closer to knowing for sure whether a medical career is the right path for you.  But if your first weeks or months of your volunteer experience don’t meet your expectations, don’t automatically write off a medical career. Try another hospital volunteer experience.  You may just find your niche at another facility. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.