I decided not to hijack the other volunteer thread, but now there are two volunteering-oriented threads going. Sorry. . .
My question is how one should explain a lack of community service as a nontrad. It’s one thing for a 22 year old to volunteer for one year before med school, but how do I explain the past 13 yrs of being a slug?
I volunteered all through high school, although it was random 5 hrs for these guys, 10 hrs for those. I was in NHS, and it was set up so that you volunteered that way for multiple organizations instead of one consistently.
In college, I was a bratty freshman and raising a kid the other 3 years. There was literally no time.
After college, I did Christmas in October for Habitat for Humanity twice. This is where crews of people go into underserved neighborhoods and work on their homes one Saturday in October. I was a house captain one year, which required ~ 50 hrs work total.
Then I had another kid and changed jobs so I wasn’t involved even involved in that project. I did nothing. I have done some baseball fundraisers and stuff for my own kid, but you can’t count that. I donate money to the United Way every year and I donate stuff to charity, but I haven’t been the type to jump in and help. Obviously there are people who make it a priority no matter how busy they are, but that wasn’t me.
Doesn’t that make me look pretty bad now that I am volunteering 4 hr/wk, and it’s hospital volunteering that doesn’t really help anyone except me?
When addressing the question of how I have demonstrated service to the community, am I better off just to say, hey, I’ve been a selfish person and I eventually got tired of it and decided to make a change from an egocentric lifestyle to a more community-oriented one, or should I try to spin my meager community service into a demonstration of a history of volunteerism? (It’s not that I am selfish and don’t like to help people. I do. It just didn’t occur to me in a household with 2 FT jobs and 2 kids that I had a lot of time to give. Occassionally, something came up, like YouthFriends, and I thought hey, I would like to tutor kids, but then I remembered that I didn’t even have time to help my own kid who was falling behind in reading. Even before starting school, either my husband or myself had committments 4 nights/week. I am making excuses, but it’s not like I was watching American Idol all this time.)
I decided not to hijack the other volunteer thread, but now there are two volunteering-oriented threads going. Sorry. . .
haha. I never even thought to worry about my past life. As I have gotten older I realized the world is a lot bigger than just me. I am in a position to go to school and help others. The point is that I realized this and acted upon it. It’s like bad grades, you just have to prove you are serious now. Right?
OP, your service resume won’t be as strong as others but the other stuff in your application will hopefully be strong, plus you have a compelling personal story of having/raising a child while in school. NEVER APOLOGIZE.
Some people can weave their volunteer experiences into their story of “why medicine? why me? why now?” You can’t. So use other parts of your story to demonstrate it, list the volunteer activities you’ve done, and don’t worry about it.
mary - I appreciate the encouragement. It has been difficult to sift through the chatter of what you should do as a premed, when so much is directed towards the traditional students, to figure out if you are doing what you should as a nontrad. . .and just when you think you get it figured out, someone will toss out a comment that you aren’t automatically exempt from xyz just because you are old. Can’t change the past anyway, so yes, I should quit worrying about what I did or didn’t do and make the best of today and the future.
Truly, the only things in MY opinion that apply across-the-board are grades and MCATs. No matter how old you are, no matter what sort of extraordinary experiences you’ve accrued, you simply have to show that you have the academic chops NOW to succeed in medical school. That’s why we say - ad nauseum - go slow, don’t bite off more than you can chew, it’s a marathon not a sprint yadda yadda yadda . Your grades and MCATs can be compared to all other applicants. Your life experiences, volunteer work, insights, etc. cannot. Good luck!
Im in a similar pickle . while i dont have a 13 year gap of volunteer service (i only have 5) I don’t want to make it look like I’m cramming in last minute volunteer service just to check off another box.
I suppose some volunteer service is better than none.
And like others have said before, you cant change what you have or have not done in the past, just work with it the best you can.
Feel free to highjack my threads anytime! Your point is similar to what I was trying to say. I feel “fake” suddenly up and volunteering. I am a pretty introverted guy and have never done that kind of thing. I give lot’s of money to things I care about like St. Judes and I am very passionate about my job in healthcare. However it seems that premeds are judged on a set of expected criteria. I have a feeling my monetary donations to healthcare charities isn’t going to cut it.
- jjcnbg Said:
JJ (may I call you JJ?), I totally hear where you are coming from. Since 1991, I've worked in a variety of areas in the medical field - more on the administrative side than the clinical side. But I've worked enough side by side with doctors and nurses that I've seen more than I ever would if I was a hospital volunteer.
Since I've decided to do the full-time school gig this year, I'm going to look into a couple of school organizations that will allow me to do some community service. I'm also hoping to do some volunteer work with the Florida Blood bank.
I'm doing this in some part because of interest, but if one of the hoops I need to jump through is to check off some of those boxes, then I'll do it.
You can still volunteer 2-4 hrs/week even as a non-trad, there are tons of organizations that allow much leeway and will be more than happy to have free labor. It does not have to be a ton of hours.
Yes krisss you may call me JJ. I actually should have picked a better username but I don’t think I can change it now. Oh well.
I understand Mary’s explanation of why this seems to have become a requirement for medical school. However, philosophically I don’t think this makes sense. Volunteering is such an individual choice to make and I don’t see how it should be a prereq to make a good medical school candidate. What is the direct correlation of volunteerism to being a physician. I understand some physician’s go on to run underserved clinic’s and volunteer for doctor’s without borders but plenty don’t and still make a significant contribution to people’s physical and mental well-being. I have never volunteered before but I think that if you ask my patients they would say I am a pretty good paramedic with a comforting and sympathetic beside manner.
I would think that the qualities that could make a good physician are as diverse as the people that apply. Extrovert, introvert, charitable, academic, ambitious, relaxed, or entrepreneurial. I believe that all characteristics and personality types could have something to offer the world of medicine in there own unique way.
Then again I am not an Adcom and it is the way it is so I guess I better suck-it-up! Thanks for entertaining my rant.
- jjcnbg Said:
As far as the reason for the unofficial volunteering requirement. . . I thought it was too weed out jerks who didn't like to volunteer, but I think it's really to weed out people who do this on a whim. My advisor told me a story of a guy who applied and interviewed, and then told the interviewer that his reason was something like "just to see if he get in and if he did, he would try it out and see if he liked it." He didn't get in. A lot of the traditional undergrad students don't have to go out of their way like us to take the prereqs, so I guess it weeds out the uncommitted ones.
- efex101 Said:
This is what I am doing, but it was harder than advertised. I was turned down by a few organizations (the teaching hospital for one), because my work and school schedule locked me into a weekend-only option.
Currently, I am doing 4 hrs/wk right smack in the middle of my Sunday, and I'm toughing it out as long as possible b/c I think having the hospital connection will be a mutually beneficial thing as this progresses. However, I don't know if I will be able to keep it up in fall when my school schedule requires every other Saturday for 4 hrs of A&P lab.
Regardless of how it looks, I am going to have to do what works for me, even if it involves shortchanging the organization. I'm not going to get a B in O-chem because I gave up 4 hrs of study time to hand patients clipboards and stock linens. This situation really has me torn because I think it could be an indication to the med school that I can't handle a full schedule, but I don't think I could explain to someone who hasn't been here how leading a double life is very time consuming. I had to spend a good portion of this past Saturday working for WORK (plus Sunday vol.), and that won't happen in med school. I don't have a job where I can say, hey dudes, I have a test. . .I'm calling in sick. . . I also won't have a four year old who's idea of leaving you alone is asking you when you are going to be done every 2 minutes. . .I'll have a 7 yr old and everyone knows they need less attention.
THANK YOU OPM FOR BEING MY STRESS OUTLET!!!
Are you saying I’m a jerk? But I hardly know you:) I definitely have nothing against volunteering but I tend to protect anytime I have free for “family time”. This is one more reason I donate a lot of money to the causes I care about.
My wife is a very busy exec. and my work schedule doesn’t allow me to have regular weekends off with my family so I am a little protective of time with my son who’s 4. I guess I could take him with me to volunteer somewhere but I don’t think many places like 4 year olds running around.
I am competing in an Ironman triathlon this year and I’ve thought about volunteering in some of the other event’s med tents but I am not quite sure that is the kind of volunteering they are looking for. I am sure I will find something appropriate and hopefully the rest of my application makes up for my lack of volunteer time.
- jjcnbg Said:
Are you saying I'm a jerk? But I hardly know you:) I definitely have nothing against volunteering but I tend to protect anytime I have free for "family time". This is one more reason I donate a lot of money to the causes I care about.
My wife is a very busy exec. and my work schedule doesn't allow me to have regular weekends off with my family so I am a little protective of time with my son who's 4. I guess I could take him with me to volunteer somewhere but I don't think many places like 4 year olds running around.
I am competing in an Ironman triathlon this year and I've thought about volunteering in some of the other event's med tents but I am not quite sure that is the kind of volunteering they are looking for. I am sure I will find something appropriate and hopefully the rest of my application makes up for my lack of volunteer time.
Ha! I didn't mean you. I was thinking of the 4.0 gpa, 40 MCAT, 22 y.o. students who tend to be a little arrogant about their odds of getting accepted. I was thinking they would think that they they were above volunteering. But then I thought, they're probably right. . .
G'luck with the ironman. . .that's probably a good 10 hrs per week you could volunteer after you finish that and let your body go to a blob like I have done this summer.
I am too pressed for time to go back to my earlier comments, but if I said what I always say, it was something along the lines of, volunteering is a way to show that you really do want to help people.
Nurses, EMTs, firefighters, service members… their JOBS demonstrate a service ethic that is appreciated by med school AdComs. They’ve gotten down and dirty with needy members of the public, and that, I think, is one of the main things I was looking for when I evaluated applications. Do you have any idea how taxing it is “to help people”? How hard it can be?
In my mind, a good doctor cares about people. And so whatever you have done in your life (and I mean actively doing, not writing checks) needs to show that you care about people outside your own little sphere. That you know the world is bigger than your own aspirations.
So “volunteering” is, in my mind, a very narrow definition of the idea of SERVICE which is what I always try to emphasize when discussing this subject.
I always kind of felt like my job choice to be a firefighter/paramedic was a choice to serve others. I know I get paid for it but I took a large salary reduction to do so. I am very glad to hear that others might take this into account next to my lack of “official” volunteer time.
Your posts are insightful as always Mary. Thanks.
Since I am planning on doing the full-time school gig this year, I thought that before I left my job, I would see about possibly continuing my stay at the hospital that I’ve been working at for the past 4 years. So I emailed the volunteer coordinator letting her know that I will be leaving employment at SMH to further my education and would love the opportunity to still be part of the organization by volunteering.
Her reply back is that they are not taking on new college students as volunteers do to the lack of retention, cost of training, yada, yada, yada.
Well, I emailed her back and stated that while I totally understand that it can be a costly factor to train someone and if she says that, she had poor retention with the more traditional students…but I pointed out two things…one, I’m anything but traditional, at 44 I’ve lived and had many more responsibilities than many of the “traditional” students, and I’m familiar with the hospital…which if cost is a factor, that should definitely be in my favor.
If I didn’t feel that I could handle the 4-6 hrs a week, I wouldn’t try to apply. School comes first for me.
…and yes it is exhausting!!! But rewarding.
- Mary Renard Said:
Nurses, EMTs, firefighters, service members.... their JOBS demonstrate a service ethic that is appreciated by med school AdComs. They've gotten down and dirty with needy members of the public, and that, I think, is one of the main things I was looking for when I evaluated applications. Do you have any idea how taxing it is "to help people"? How hard it can be?
In my mind, a good doctor cares about people. And so whatever you have *done* in your life (and I mean actively doing, not writing checks) needs to show that you care about people outside your own little sphere. That you know the world is bigger than your own aspirations.
So "volunteering" is, in my mind, a very narrow definition of the idea of SERVICE which is what I always try to emphasize when discussing this subject.
I actually do have a pretty good idea how taxing it can be to try to help people. What I haven't said before here is that I have several in-laws and a few friends that live below the poverty line. I would say that I act as a relative and a friend, not as a therapist, counselor, social worker, and lifeline but all these are true, too. And no matter how much effort is expended, nothing done by my myself or my husband has resulted in permanent change in the lives of these people. Still, we do not write them off and we keep trying to make a difference. I don't care if I technically could include this on my app, I wouldn't. It's personal. But, I feel like you might have the impression I'm a spoiled person who doesn't help people. It's not true. I really don't have a lot of time to join formal organizations, so I struggle with 'painting the picture' that I really am someone who cares about others.
I couldn’t agree more with jjcnb’s post! There are many, many jobs that involve service and helping people, and they don’t require that you have hours of volunteering in order to get them. A friend of mine is applying to a Masters in Social Work program - service to the community IS the job, yet there is absolutely no requirement for volunteering hours. With what doctors get paid these days, aren’t they essentially volunteers for life? Years ago, admission to medical school was based solely on grades/MCAT, so it stands to reason that something in society has changed which has necessitated an adjustment in the admissions criteria. I can think of several things that likely contributed to this shift. I must agree with the other poster who stated it is simply a weeding-out tool. And that is fine, but to imply that someone would not make a good doctor because he/she hasn’t been volunteering for the past 20 years is ridiculous. Everyone has different life circumstances, and like another poster said, some have been restricted by personal or family situations that they would rather not discuss with an admissions board. Also, people’s world view and life goals change, so those of us who have decided at this point in our lives to take a more active interest in the lives of and service to others will just move in that direction starting now, regardless of what we’ve been doing before. There is something in medicine for everyone. Not every applicant has to be an extroverted, emotionally charged person - there are plenty of areas for an introverted, introspective person to excel. I’m glad to finally know that there are a few others out there of like mind