Volunteering – The Why and the How

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

Why Volunteer?

Committing to medical school is committing to many years of training and tens of thousands of dollars in debt in order to help individuals achieve health. It’s a huge sacrifice and there are many other ways to make a living. If you can’t show that you’re willing to sacrifice time and resources to serve other people, medical schools will quickly pass you over.

What Type of Volunteering is Best?

To me, it seemed like every pre-med and their sister’s dogsitter was either an EMT or a hospital front desk volunteer. I was worried for a while that I wasn’t doing the right volunteering! It turns out that medical schools don’t care how you choose to volunteer. If you want, you can drag your feet and dread your volunteer hours just to check off the box before you apply. Otherwise, you can find something you’re really passionate about and end up enjoying your commitments while having experiences that provide priceless content for application essays and interview conversations.

The more experiences you record that illustrate your passion for helping people and the more interesting your application writing is, the more likely you’ll catch the eye of your application reviewer. If you don’t look forward to volunteering, change what you’re doing. You shouldn’t be “jumping through hoops,” you should be following what motivates you most. When an interviewer asks you “why did you volunteer here?” or “what did you like best about volunteering there?” you should be prepared to enthusiastically respond and have stories to back it up.

Ideally, you’ll have some experiences in a clinical setting. If you get paid for your clinical experiences, you won’t need to worry about this as much. If not, you can get two birds with one stone by volunteering in a clinical setting. The AMCAS activity category is labeled: Community Service/Volunteer – Medical/Clinical.

Choose something you’ll enjoy.

How much do I need to volunteer?

This is universally one of the most important areas of your application. To be safe and competitive for most schools, you should be aiming to get over 200 hours. If I had to put a number on it, I would say to plan on engaging in 3-5 different volunteer experiences while logging most of your hours with 1 or 2 organizations. The more longitudinal, the better. Showing up 4 times for a couple of hours is not going to be enough. Commit to a long-term service that engages your work weekly or bi-weekly for many months to a couple of years, for example.

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