OK to take a semester off from volunteering?

From May-December of this year, I volunteered remotely as a research assistant with Stanford’s division of pediatrics for a study on school meals during the pandemic for ~70 hrs total. I loved this project given I was a teacher before I switched to medicine and got some much needed research experience after not being able to get a clinical research coordinator/assistant job there. This project ended in December and the department’s next project is 6-8 hrs/week with stricter deadlines than the one I worked on. For spring 2021, I’m taking OChem 2 & physics 1 (2 lectures & 2 labs). Given that I’m taking physics for the first time ever and math is my weakness, I think a project with this many hours a week and strict deadlines is too much for me to handle. I told the study coordinator that I can’t commit to this particular project, but I would like to get involved if any projects with more flexible deadlines come up. Since she’s planning to apply to med school, she understands that school comes first.

In addition to these hours, I just realized that I have ~800 hrs from when I volunteered with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps from August 2012-January 2013 in an underserved school. Even with ~870 hours total, will med schools frown upon taking a semester off from volunteering to focus on school? I scribe part time in conjunction with classes, and spring semester will be my heaviest semester before I can take the MCAT in early 2022. I’m planning to take the summer off from classes to focus on studying for the MCAT. My last pre-reqs in 2021 will be biochem and physics 2 lecture/lab. Between my current scribe position and recent medical receptionist position of ~2 yrs, I have a combined total of at least 2000 hrs of healthcare experience. I am open to finding another volunteer activity starting in the summer but I don’t want to kill my strong GPA that I’ve worked hard for.

As I’ve heard from this podcast, your grades won’t guarantee acceptance but they will keep you out. More importantly, I believe that knowing myself is crucial to my academic success. I’d much prefer to be honest with myself that I’ll need to dedicate more time to physics because of the math than not taking this weakness into account out of perceived fear of med schools thinking I’m not a competitive candidate for not wanting to destroy my GPA.

My concerns about med schools frowning upon a semester with no volunteering is founded in 1) my friend not getting into med school the first time she applied because adcoms said she wasn’t “alturistic enough” (however, I think she had ~45 hrs at the time) 2) my post-bacc program director possibly making me feel bad for not doing enough in a given semester (as has been the case in the past) and 3) possible difficulty in finding a volunteer activity due to Covid.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear from others who have been in the same situation!

You’re fine taking time off.

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That’s what I hoped was the case so thanks for affirming it’s OK to do so. I’m also thinking about emailing the study coordinator if she knows other departments who are looking for an RA who can volunteer remotely.