Making the most of your volunteering opportunities

September 22, 2014

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

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Most medical colleges expect pre-meds to have had some kind of experience in the medical field before they apply to medical school. This is because, applying after you’ve had some experience shows that you know what you are getting into and are less likely to drop out of the program midway. Even on the personal front, it is much better to have some experience in the medical field so that you can get a clearer picture as to what is involved and whether or not a career in medicine is right for you.  

Checking a newborns vital signs So how do you go about getting any medical experience when you are not a qualified medical practitioner? That can put you in a classic catch-22 situation. The best way to resolve this impasse is by volunteering with an organisation related in some way to the healthcare field.

When it comes to volunteering, we’ve seen that a lot of students aren’t sure as to whether they should stick to one place for a long time or whether it is better to try their hand at different experiences within the medical field. Others may be confused about what kind of work experience will actually be relevant when they apply to medical school. To help you make an informed decision, we’ve put together a few tips on how to select the best kind of volunteering work and also how to gain the most out of the opportunity so that you can give your medical school application a huge boost.  

Sticking to one experience v/s volunteer-hopping

Both have their pros and cons. Staying with one opportunity for the long term shows your commitment and also increases your chances of being given more challenging tasks and broadening your experience. This translates to more impressive letters of recommendation. However, dabbling in different volunteer opportunities will help expand your horizons and your exposure to different fields but it is important that you choose your opportunities carefully so that all of them contribute to your growth personally and professionally.

How to get the most out of your volunteer opportunity

Most volunteers feel like they have been stuck with unnecessary and silly jobs. But you have to realise that you have managed to get one foot in the door. The rest is up to you to make it a good experience. One way to do that is to network with the rest of the staff. Get to know the nurses, the doctors, the patients and the other professionals who are around you. When you do this over a period of time, you will gain the respect and confidence of the others and slowly they will begin to trust you with more responsibilities. The important thing is to earn the trust and respect of your colleagues and peers.

Do non-medical experiences count?

Yes, you can do volunteer work in a non-medical field if you are passionate about it. In fact, there are a lot of qualities that can be gained from these other volunteering stints that can later be transferred into your medical profession. For example, if you worked a lot in teams and you developed your leadership skills, you could mention that in your application because it will be relevant to doctors who need to work together. However, remember that you are going to be applying to medical school so you should have at least one or two medical related volunteering experiences along with the others.

It is important to document your experience

Make it a habit to make notes and document your experience right from the very beginning. That way you won’t forget anything and your notes will come in very handy when you are questioned during your interview for medical school. If you have volunteered in an organisation for long enough so that people there know you personally, try to get a letter of recommendation from them. It will give your application a huge boost.