Advice RE: volunteer assignment

I’ve been volunteering at a rehab hospital for about 6 months now. They have a spinal cord unit and a traumatic brain injury unit, and because I am interested in TBIs, I thought this would be a great place to volunteer. I told the coordinator my career goals and interests, and she placed me in the physical therapy unit that handles mainly joint replacement pts. Although I’ve worked in healthcare for over 15 years, this is my first hands-on experience with patient contact. I’ve learned many things about rehab and wheelchairs, etc, and I’ve seen some interesting cases. The pts cycle through every hour, so my basic function is to wipe down the mats before the next wave of pts. I’m furiously busy for about 10 minutes and then stand around for the next 50! I’m bored to tears! I ask for additional things to do, but there really isn’t much. And some of the therapists have a bit of an attitude with me since they found out I’m pre-med and not pre-PT. Is this typical? How long do I need to stay in one assignment? Is it ok to ask for experience in another department? Should I look for another facility? I had the first meeting of my school’s pre-health committee and the advisor stated that letters from volunteer coordinators are not advantageous, so I assume that my hours will be self-reported on AMCAS. That being the case, it seems that I will just be including the total lump of my hours (?), so do I need to show longevity in one department? Any advice?


You’re up in Laurel. Are you at Kernan?

When I was pre-med, I volunteered in the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) at Shock Trauma. The University of Maryland has (?had) a very well-organized volunteer program (This was 10 years ago, so things may have chnaged). Since they see med students and nursing students rotate through all the time, they were very open to having a motivated pre-med. I went on to work there full time during my glide year and part-time my first three years of med school. When I worked as a tech, it was always clear when there was a pre-whatever just putting in their hours. For the ones that were motivated, the nurses and techs would show them things and increase their patient contact.

As a volunteer, my job was similar to yours for part of the time-- stocking the bedside carts, wiping down beds after patients were transferred, etc. However, because I was motivated, the nurses welcomed the extra set of hands to help bathe patients, turn patients, etc. I progressed to changing dressings and other more nursing-type activities. The anesthesiologists knew I was pre-med and would have me come observe procedures, even “assisting” by handing them things, holding body parts, etc. The charge nurse of the PACU wrote a letter of recommendation for me for med school and the Director of the PACU (an anesthesiologist) wrote a letter of recommendation for me for residency.

I got my EMT with the intention of leaving the PACU and riding with my local VFD. However, I was offered a job as a patient care tech by the PACU and the rest is history.

I think one of the things that helped was that I volunteered Friday nights and the same two nurses always worked Friday nights, so they got to know me really well.

The point of my ramblings is that there are places where you can volunteer that can let you grow into the type of experience you want. By taking initiative in the “scut” type work that volunteers do, I was able to grow into more patient care activities. However, this took time and building a relationship with trust with the nurses and doctors I worked with.

Hope this helps.



I am at Kernan! I was on a waiting list to interview for volunteering at U of MD, but Kernan was able to fit me in right away, so I went there instead. Plus, I figured I would get more exposure with TBI patients there, so that was another advantage. In hindsight, though, I think that the small size of Kernan and infrequent pre-meds coming through has limited the opportunities available to me there. Do you think that since they are part of the same hospital system it would be ok to try the University again? Even if I switched, it would be too late to get any LORs since I have to request them from my writers by beginning of February (per my school’s pre-health committee requirements), but I would really like some more patient contact and more responsibilities. I’m also sort of paranoid about what I can and cannot do and say to the patients because the coordinator laid out so many restrictions during orientation - it seems that the most I can do is say hello!

Thank you for relaying your experience! If you don’t mind me asking - did you go through your school’s pre-health committee?


I did my post-bacc at Towson University and did get a letter through them. However, I think I contacted the volunteer department on my own at the recommendation of the post-bacc director at Towson.

At U of M, we had to commit 100 hours to where we volunteered. I also volunteered in the STC OR on Mondays. I would stock the ORs and prep the beds for patients in surgery. However, inbetween I would go in an watch surgeries. However, afetr 100 hours of that, I decided to switch to the PACU 2 days per week.

Hope that helps.


Also, in the STC PACU, they encouraged me to interact with the patients. I don’t know if David Wong is still the charge nurse up there. I haven’t made it back up there since I left in 2007. I can’t guarentee a similar experience, but I would consider up there.

Thank you! This is valuable information! You also stated in your first post that you worked during the first 3 years of med school. Was this difficult? How many hours did you work?

I believe the only time commitment at Kernan is 40 hours (for them to write a letter for you), and I’ve exceeded that. I will contact the University this week to set up an appointment for volunteering. Thanks so much for the advice!

If I had to do it again, I would not have continued to work during med school. I worked 16-32 hours per month, 8 hours on Fridays. While I enjoyed it, I think I would have benefited more from having a relaxing night at home or from studying.

Regarding the letter of reference, you don’t have to have one from where you volunteer. On the AMCAS application your volunteer hours are self-reported. But I think you have to give a contact person…don’t know if they followup and talk with those folks or not.

Anyone else know?