Until you have a medical school acceptance letter in hand, people from all walks of life will continue to give you advice about “how to get into med school.” As a pre-med, I feel like I’ve heard almost all of it before. “It’s all about the grades,” “great interview skills,” “strong resume…” Although the key is probably a combination of all of these things, one experience I feel is invaluable is volunteering in the field you want to go into.
While attending college, I volunteer for one 4 hour shift every week at the local hospital. I do everything from discharging and admitting patients and making charts in the emergency department to running medical errands, transporting files, and bringing gifts to rooms in the patient towers. And although it’s still far from prescribing medications or treating fractures, the work I’ve done in the hospital has given me experience I am finding invaluable as I apply for PA school and consider my future career in the emergency room.
So, here are the 10 big reasons why I think it is a MUST for all pre-med students to volunteer in the field (specifically from my hospital experience):
10. It’s a Solid Resume Builder
Although this should obviously not be the main reason you volunteer, being able to apply to medical, dental, PA, or any other professional medical program with not just volunteer experience but volunteer experience where you were submerged in a working medical environment and also had direct contact with patients makes a very positive impression on applications (and potential employers).
9. It’s a Way of Giving Back to the Industry
If the medical field is something you really respect and believe in, it’s beneficial for both you and the hospital to put in hours for free. Many hospitals, especially like the somewhat rural one that I volunteer at, really couldn’t get by without volunteers, and their appreciation is very apparent.
8. The New Knowledge and Experience You’ll Obtain are Always Useful
Although my experience primarily involves interactions with patients and other volunteers, the tips I’ve been offered by doctors and nurses as well as the other medical things I’ve learned by observing and talking to patients have really expanded my knowledge and made me a much more informed pre-med student with first-hand experience to reinforce the concepts I’m learning in class.
7. Bedside Manner Practice is Never a Bad Thing
No matter what type of medical professional you plan to be, interacting with patients will almost certainly be a daily activity. You can be confident in a majority of social interactions, but until you face a disgruntled family member, a patient in agony, or a language barrier, it’s hard to get true practice or know how you would actually react in tough situation. Volunteering not only provides you with experience but also with the confidence to walk into a patient’s room prepared to greet anything – well…almost anything – that’s waiting for you on the other side.
6. You Learn the Tools of the Trade and How the Hospital Functions
From seeing the flashing trauma intake stats on a computer screen to exploring the vast library of medical records, volunteering on the inside gives you a good look at the way a hospital works and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what’s really going on – and what you’ll probably be doing at different points of your career – from the moment a patient is admitted until the time they’re discharged.
5. It’s a Lot Different in Real Life
You can watch ER and House all you want, but until you’re staring an open fracture or an ailing child in the face, you can never truly know if you’re cut out for the job. Getting that kind of experience really is priceless, and it will most likely confirm or make your reevaluate your passion to be a medical professional.
4. It Makes You Test Yourself
Sure, you can speak Spanish, but can you speak it well to a frantic man with a traumatic hand injury? Can you successfully calm down someone with Alzheimer’s? Or even just witness the tears of a family member saying goodbye? Although you probably won’t encounter these situations too often in your volunteer position, they are all things that you will see as a health professional. It tests your fortitude and your dedication to your position, and the way you respond in trying situations helps you learn more about yourself as well.
3. It Helps You Understand Your Future Work Environment
Seeing how many hours the average person in your future career puts in, how many hours you would be on your feet, how busy you would be on an average day, and even how your position is viewed by others who work in the department and how that department interacts with others throughout the hospital are key factors you need to consider when committing to a career. These are things that can only be seen and determined by you first-hand.
2. Real Experience with Patients is Invaluable
Reading about injuries and diseases in a textbook is one thing, but seeing them in real life is completely different. No matter where you’re stationed in a hospital, you’ll probably be exposed to many different conditions but also to the belligerent, the confused, the scared, the depressed, the angry, and the downright rude patient. Learning early on how to comfort and deal with all of these types of patients puts you a full step ahead of the competition and can only aid you in years to come.
1. It Ensures that You Can Commit to Your Career
All of these factors combined with the fact that you are volunteering to be put in some pretty difficult situations (and aren’t there under any kind of formal contract or form of employment) proves to yourself and everyone else that you’re serious about medicine as your future career. If it’s the right field for you, then all of these experiences will only strengthen your desire to take that next step and apply to nursing, PA, dental, PT, or medical school.
Positions like the one I’ve been lucky enough to land can be hard to find, but keep looking! I guarantee you will not regret a single moment of your first-hand hospital experience.