"Checking the Volunteer Box"

Any and all opinions are welcome on this one:

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? Thank you in advance!

I wouldn’t assume they’re going to read into your decision too much. Most people understand that people in medicine have interests outside of medicine. Volunteering, in general, shows your willingness to sacrifice your time for the good of others. You don’t have to volunteer within the medical community (and I would argue that you don’t necessarily have to volunteer, though its definitely smiled upon). It’s more admirable that you recognized that you can better fill a need elsewhere and went to fill that hole than you sticking it out in the ED just to be in the ED. However, make sure you have adequate “clinical experience”, which should include some shadow time (dedicated time to follow a physician, not volunteering near where physicians work).

You do you and let the cards fall. Don’t let the application cycle change who you are or what you do. Afterall, it’s YOU the school wants to get to know when they make their decision, and it’s YOU who wants to get into medicine.