How early to start volunteering/where/how much?

I guess it makes sense to start volunteering early on, while I’m taking my prereqs to make absolutely sure that I want to be a doctor. But if I’m planning to be a DO, should I just volunteer at a DO’s office or will volunteering at a hospital be ok? How much volunteer time do you recommend - a few hours/week, a couple of days/week? I’ve read that a few people are becoming EMTs. Is that highly recommended as far as experience and volunteering - something good to put on med school application? Should I do volunteer and EMT to look even better and get more experience?

I think the ground level amount of volunteering that you need to do would be in a clinical setting (hosp. good for that) for a few hours a week for several months. Some hospitals require you to vol. for a set amount of hours before they will give you a letter of recommendation. (I’ve seen 100 hours)
It’s not necessary to become an EMT to “look good on paper.” Only do that if the job is something you truly want to do while you are taking your classes.
If you are even thinking of going the DO route, it’s a good idea (and required at some DO schools) that you at least shadow a DO so that you know what the profession is all about.
Most importantly (IMHO), you need to be able to talk intelligently about medicine, be familiar with some of the issues doctors face, and be sure that this is the career for you. (I’m not questioning you, but in interviews they may ask you how you know you will actually like the job!)
The year before I applied I shadowed a couple of docs once a week for 3 months and started volunteering in the ICU at the hospital. I met such great people there that I am still volunteering even though they need me at the computer desk and I get very little clinical exposure these days.
Good luck!

A lot depends on what is available in your community and what you would enjoy doing.
Before becoming an EMT, be sure that there are opportunities in the community where you live. Here, there are so many premed EMTs that it is nearly impossible to get hired, and difficult even to volunteer. In other places, it’s completely different. For me, the expense and time required for EMT training made it out of the question.
Volunteering at a DO’s office is likely to be difficult to set up; shadowing is more likely. It may take some time to find someone who will allow you to shadow, so start looking very early. Be sure to shadow both DO and MD if you can, and preferably a few people so you have some idea of different types of practices. I did 60 hours of DO shadowing and 40 hours with 6 MDs and 1 RN.
For volunteering, go wherever you can get the best experience. Some places have good hospital volunteer programs; other places have few opportunities, and you are better off volunteering at a free clinic. For example, our hospital is so stuffed with premed volunteers that you will push the magazine cart around the wards and will not get to the emergency room until you have been volunteering for a year. Same for the major hospital in the city nearby. I just got hired as a medical assistant at the free clinic where I volunteered 200 hours; lots of patient contact.
So far, interviewers have been impressed with the range of shadowing I did, and with my volunteer experience; they seem to feel that this is perfectly adequate to make a good decision about whether I want to be a doctor or not. Also, I have very good recommendations from the DO I shadowed, and from one of the clinic doctors. At a hospital, it would be harder to get personal recommendations.

Do you have any free health clinics in your area? They are perfect places to get lots of clinical experience. The one I volunteered at for 3 years ran almost completely on volunteer help. By the time I was done there I did check ins, taking vitals, gave immunizations, gave shots, ran simple lab tests, counseled pregnant patients, drew blood and volunteered to draw blood for HIV testing. I loved it there. We treated many of the city’s homeless, uninsured or underinsured patients. It was a great place to gain all sorts of insight in the life of a doctor who treats the poor.
I wish I had time to train for and become an EMT while I was still in school. I think that is a great experience you could have.
If you are planning on applying to DO schools, a lot of them require a recommendation from a DO. Try to establish a relationship with one. See if they will let you shadow them at their office. You may have a tough time doing that however due to HIPPA. If they won’t let you shadow, then ask them if they would interview you, give them your personal statement, that way you can get the required DO letter.
Good luck

Thanks for everyone’s suggestions!
I think that I’ll put the EMT training aside for now and start with either volunteering at a hospital or see if there are any free clinics in town. Something that I didn’t even think about is the possibility that the volunteer time at hospitals might be crowded with lots of other premed students. That is something I’ll have to keep in mind when I sign up at a hospital.
I guess I should actually, physically go to a DO’s office and explain my situation and ask if I could shadow/volunteer. Last time I just called a DO’s office and was only able to speak to the receptionist who said she would tell the doctor about me and call me back the next day . . . but I never got a call back. I guess on the phone there’s no way of knowing what kind of person I am, or if I’m really serious. Probably better to go in person.
This may be a dumb question, but what is HIPPA?

Hi there,
Even better than directly contacting physician offices, call the local medical society and explain your circumstances. They will usually directly connect you with a physician in your area to shadow. This was especially true for the MSDC which was the Medical Society of the District of Columbia. They send out routine mailings to their members which include the names of pre-med students who need mentors.

Lots of good advice here on volunteering. A good volunteer gig ideally has lots of patient contact, lots of clinician contact, and lots of hands on stuff. You want to work with clinicians
who will show you, not just tell you. But you don’t want to overdo it. You don’t want to let your volunteer take precedence over your coursework or education. Volunteer work comes and goes, but grades are damaged and time is lost forever. We’re not getting any younger. Case in point:
Years and years ago, I started volunteering at a local non-profit free health clinic, where I was trained as a medical assistant and and as a lay community health worker, volunteering 25 hours per week in addition to working full-time. In the first few years, I learned a lot.
I’m still there, after 13,000 hours of patient contact. Every time I thought about leaving, the patients and management of this free clinic would say, “You can’t leave, we need you.” And so I stayed. I wasn’t the only volunteer, of course, but all the other volunteers were smart: they stopped when they saw the opportunity to move on; I didn’t, and now most are practicing doctors.
Not only have I lost valuable time that I could have been working as a doctor and utilizing my talents to their fullest extent rather than underachieving. Volunteering such a large number of hours per week also damaged my GPA on the few night classes I have been able to take. To make matters worse, all my premed classes are out of date. And today, my premed advisor at my old alma mater told me that I would have to retake all my premed classes.
Moral: Seek a balance between your volunteer work and your goals to become a clinician/doctor. We only come this way once, don’t blow it. Learn to say “enough” when the time is right. Basta!
(Fortunately, I at last retaking control; I am leaving my volunteer and day jobs to return to school and begin again.)

What about community service volunteering? I get the impression that that’s necessary, too. I just downloaded Bryn Mawr’s post-bacc application, and even they seem to expect it. I was thinking, won’t I look stupid applying for admission next fall if I had NO volunteering of any kind prior to this December? What kind of experiences do schools like to see (for example, would something like Habitat for Humanity be looked down upon because you don’t work directly with the people you’re ultimately helping?)

Hi Trismegistus,
I know you were only stating Habitat as an example but I thought I’d chime in for you and anyone else who would want to do that. In Habitat for Humanity,you do work directly with the people you’re helping. Even if you choose only to work at a site, those who are selected to obtain a house built by habitat are required to put in 500 hours of "sweat equity"as they call it, i.e. they build their own house right along with you. you can also volunteer for their family selection committee, or an even better way to get directly involved, some(or all i’m not sure) Habitat chapters have an integration program where you help the family get settled by taking them around town, going with them to the DMV, grocery store, whatever.
Just thought I’d give my 2 cents…good luck with your post-bacc search!

There isn’t a handy rule to follow about these things, and a lot depends on what your history is. My med school wants people who have a long history of community service. They actually care about what you did as a kid with your free time. Fortunately for me, I have a long history of community service, but I don’t have a zillion hours racked up! I did a bit here and there along the way as my interests guided me. I was a candystriper as a teen, raised a leader dog brood bitch, was a foster parent, a volunteer educator at a nature center and even had a wildlife rehab license - over a period of 20ish years. I didn’t hurt myself with volunteer work, though.
You don’t want to be just another person who volunteers in the usual places just to make your application look good. People can see right through that, and they don’t like it.
Do something you feel passionate about. If you have some clinical experience, enough to prove you know what you’re getting into, then feel freer about volunteering with something interesting. You want to have personal interests and hobbies outside of medicine, something that shows your humanity and personality and broader interests.
Choose something that makes you look more interesting than the next pre med who is trying to pad their app. It is never too early to volunteer, but it surely can be too late. As the others have warned, whatever you do, don’t let your grades suffer for it.

I was talking with a dean of admissions one time and she was telling me about an applicant that only had one EC on her application, however it was enough and she was accepted to that school.
The applicant had set up her own Habitat for humanity project in her community and ran it from the beginning of the building to the very end. The dean siad this was a unique EC and set her above the rest of the applicants that year.
I would say that it is a great way to volunteer and give your time. It really means something to the people who benefit from the program.
I personally would suggest that plus a clinical experience as well.