Volunteer Experience

Reading this forum has been such an educating and empowering experiene and I just want to thank everyone for sharing their experiences. It is so good to know that I am not alone.
I am a 33 year old mother of two (one who is 2 and my nephew who is 6). I graduated from Oriental medicine school, a 4 year graduate level alternative medical program that focuses on acupuncture, six years ago and have been in private practice since. I love what I do but for many reasons have started down the path of allopathic medical school. Some of the reasons include expaning my knowledge base and scope, working internationally, and specializing in ob/gyn.
I know that volunteer experience is really important for admission. I have plenty of patient contact but not much in the hospital setting. Just this morning I met with the volunteer coordinator at the county hospital and she painted a pretty grim picture of the volunteer experience there including my experience of “stocking”. She quoted the HIPPA guidelines as being very limiting to actual patient contact.
I would like to get feedback form other premeds and what you have done for volunteer experience. If you did volunteer at a hospital what was it like? Do you think that the experience will help you become a better physician? Are there any other creative ways to gain experience? I do have some friends and referring physicians who are ob/gyns. Would it be best to approach them to shadow or start some research?
What about international programs? I would love to hear feedback from premeds who traveled abroad.
Also, I have read some posts about taking online courses. I just wanted to say that I have taken a fair amount of courses through Rio Solado Community College here in Phoenix. Although I do not suggest taking the prereqs they do have other courses like medical spanish, calculus, A&P, microbiology, statistics ect. Their website is www.rio.maricopa.edu.
Thanks in advance,

I was on my way to volunteer and was presented with the HIPAA guidelines. After the rundown of what I could and could not do it just wasn’t worth it. There was no patient contact allowed. The most I could expect was after a few months and a training course to be able to wheel a patient to their car…supervised.
Just wasn’t worth it. I looked into volunteer EMT and it wasn’t bad, eventually…but the 6 months of classes would interfere with pre-med classes. It was recommended to me by a couple docs that it would be best to shadow as many physicians as possible. So I would recommend the same to you.

The volunteer experience certainly does not need to be medically related. I think medical schools are more looking to see a comittment to service and is probably a lot more important for the young 20-something’s to have done to show that there not just going into medicine because it seems like a cool idea.
If you feel you must do some volunteer experience, many other things will suffice: teach English as a Second Language, volunteer with the local hospice organization, working at food shelves or homeless shelters, etc. It all shows you are comitted to serving others.

Please remember that there are a lot of ways to get volunteer experience other than hospital work. Sometimes, the more unusual, the better when it comes to your interviews (as well as the actual experience). I know of one person who worked the phone on a suicide prevention hotline (after a relatively short training period). I trained as a hospice volunteer… officially, it was 14 hours worth of training, but in reality, my director told me “you’ll fly right through this” and she was right. She let me watch the training videos at home, met with me to discuss the readings, etc. With hospice, it’s just one-on-one with you and your patients. Other places to look: schools or programs for retarded children or adults, senior programs (i.e. adult day care), nursing homes/assisted living homes, women’s shelters, free clinics, Planned Parenthood, et al. Check out www.volunteermatch.org too. You can sign up for any listings for volunteers needed within a chosen radius from your zip code. Even your own family doctor might let you volunteer to do vitals or “mini-assisting” (if of course you sign a non-disclosure form a la HIPPA) and he/she already knows you well. Good luck!

Your case is a little different since you have so much clinical experience already. I would call up a couple of admissions offices, meet with a representative, and find out whether they think you need more clinical/volunteer experience.
I also had very frustrating experiences with hospitals. Instead, I went to the local free community clinic. After a couple of months of filing, they had an opening in their volunteer program and I got in. I worked as a volunteer medical assistant. (I also had many years of non-health-related volunteer experience, which really didn’t seem to count for much at all.)
I also did about 100 hours of shadowing, which many interviewers seemed to regard as just as good as clinical volunteer work.

In the interviews I have had so far, my volunteer and clinical experiences have not been questioned as insufficient at all (although one interviewer did ask if I had any medical experience other than EMS).
The thing that ALL of my interviewers have asked about (and suggested I needed to do more of) is shadowing a physician. That may not be as big of issue for you, but it may be something to consider.
Good luck -

I am currently volunteering at a Childrens Hospital in my community. You are correct that the HIPPA regulations do cause some limitations. My volunteer experience thus far has ranged from visiting patients in their rooms (doors always stay open when visiting a patient) to coordinating Bingo or other recreational events for children with cancer in the Radiation Oncology wing of the hospital, to simply cleaning up the recreational rooms (i.e. spraying down tables and chairs) after the patients are finished playing.
I agree with mpp in the sense that it is not so much what you do as volunteer work but that you know what you are getting yourself into when it comes to medicine and you are committed to service to others. You would be amazed at how horrified some med students look when they are told by the hospital staff coordinators that they have to clean tables and chairs while they are helping out. Like somehow this kind of work is beneath them.
For myself, I will try to carry across the following points to med schools when I apply next year: (1) Volunteering is a humbling yet rewarding experience; (2) Sometimes, no matter how great the medical care is for a patient, they may still die because of the terminal illness they have. If getting your hands dirty by cleaning up after a child somehow adds to the quality of their life or enables them to forget about their illness even just for a bit, then that is what I am willing to do. (3) The exposure I have received to medicine is not some glorified ‘ER’ version from tv but from real-life practical experience that has involved both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.
I am rambling but I think you get the idea. I don’t think it matters so much what you do when you volunteer, but rather that you know what you are getting yourself into and you have the maturity and insight to handle it.
Hope this helps.

That makes my day that shadowing makes a difference as I have shadowed a few doctors – three orthopedists and a neurologist. At least I am getting one thing right

As stated above, just about any steady committed volunteer experience would be helpful. While you have certainly had plenty of OMD experience, I would not forgo volunteer work completely. One post-bacc advisor told me that med schools want to see continued sustained volunteer work in medicine. So, perhaps something allopathic to show that you are serious about taking the allopathic road? Many AdComms will wonder why you want to apparently give-up one type of medicine for antoher, even if what you really want to do is to supplement your OMD background with an allopathic background (or if you want to replace it with an allopathic practice!).
Be careful of what you are getting yourself into.
Don’t let volunteering distract you from getting your pre-reqs, MCAT, and apps. That was my mistake:
I did several variable-term volunteer gigs (ranging from 3 months to 13 years in length) before I got my act together and started to focus on my pre-reqs. (In the interest of space I will forgo the detailes, but email me if you wish to know specifics.)
In retrospect, I would have spent far less time volunteering: my GPA would be much higher, and I would have been through med school by now. Oh, well, ni modo.