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Volunteering in Non-medical Vs. Medical Settings

Session 201

What if you prefer to volunteer in a non-medical setting? Should you put medical volunteering ahead of causes that matter to you?

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[01:10] OldPreMeds Question of the Week:

With the MCAT and application cycle drawing near, I’m debating shifting my volunteer efforts on opportunities away from medicine and instead towards low-income and/or marginalized populations in my area, such as at a food pantry, public health education foundation, or cultural office in my city.

My reasoning:

1) I’ve struggled to find open volunteer positions at the free clinics in my area, and am currently volunteering in an emergency department at a metropolitan hospital. Despite the visual learning I’ve gained here I feel somewhat redundant and believe my time could be better applied elsewhere.

2) I love serving low-income and marginalized populations, I’ve volunteered for a free clinic in the past (albeit, for less than 6 mos.), and am confident that public health service will be my focus coming out of medical school.

3) I come from a family full of healthcare professionals with whom I discuss the ins and outs of the healthcare field frequently, and so I feel I clearly understand what I’m getting myself into.

I don’t want to volunteer just to “check the box”, I’d like to impact the people I know I’ll one day be serving through medicine. 

However, my concern is that admission committees will see the choice of discontinued volunteer work in medicine in favor of general volunteer work as a loss of interest in the field altogether. Which is of course not true. 

Assuming my application shows solid Letters of Rec from docs and professors, good GPA/MCAT scores, and a commitment to serving people, no matter the arena, should I even be worried?

[Related episode: What if I Don’t Have Time for Volunteer Experiences?]

[02:59] Do Both

The heart of this question is really an either/or question when it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to shift all 20 hours a week from clinical experience to doing food pantry work. I recommend you do both because that is how you maintain sanity throughout this process.

This is not an either/or game. You can do both.

You don’t go all-in with the clinical experience and shadowing because that’s what you think you have to do. You need to continue to do the things you want to do that bring you joy. Do things that spark that fire and drive inside of you.

'Being well-rounded and doing what you want to do is ultimately the core of what makes a good application.'Click To Tweet

It’s not just about amazing stats and thousands of hours in clinical experience, shadowing, and research. That’s checking the box.

[04:52] Consistency is Important

Volunteering at the food pantry is great. But don’t dedicate all of your time to it. Showing that you have continued interest in these activities is important. 

You don’t just say you know what it’s all about having a mom and dad who are doctors. That’s not what it’s all about. This whole process is an exploration of you, not of them.

You need to see, hear, and feel what happens in a clinical setting. You need to go through this process. You need to experience this stuff first-hand. It’s not until then that you’ve proven to yourself that this is what you want to do.

Continue to get these experiences and do these other things you’re interested in. You don’t have to do it 20 hours a week. To show consistency, you can do those 5 or 10 hours a month. And this will free up some time for you to do these other things that will give you joy.

'Consistency doesn't have to be 20 hours a week. Consistency can be 5 hours or 10 hours a month.'Click To Tweet

[Related episode: The Struggle With Consistency In Shadowing And Volunteering]

[06:50] Final Thoughts

Stop going through this process trying to think about what will work best for your application and what the admissions committees want to see.

Go through this process thinking about what you want to do. But know in the back of your head that you will need some consistent experiences around shadowing and clinical experience. That’s what you’re trying to prove you want to go into.

Having shadowing and clinical experience from three years ago, even if it’s a good chunk of hours, isn’t good enough to prove that you still want to do this.

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