Volunteer Woes

So, I’m volunteering at the local teaching hospital now, as is the requirement of most medical schools. I only have been there for a few weeks, and can only do a few hours every week. I like the people and it’s in L&D, which is what I asked for, but I’m scared that it’s not going to work out. My understanding is that medical schools want RELEVANT volunteer experience, ie clinical, and I’m basically volunteering as a receptionist. I don’t expect to be allowed to do much, but I was hoping for something a little more patient-centered than that. The volunteer office indicated that there wasn’t much available for volunteers working with patients because of HIPAA. Is my volunteer experience pointless? Should I try to go to a different hospital?

Most hospitals require volunteers to go through HIPAA training, which allows them to have patient contact. You may want to ask the volunteer office if they offer such training for volunteers. If not, you won’t get to see much. On the other hand, if you stick it out the people around you will get to know you and your capabilities and perhaps allow you to do more than it initially seems you’ll be able to. Your first recourse, though, is to talk with the volunteer office and see what the possibilities are.

I’d also like to point out that sometimes premed students have unrealistic expectations as to what they might be able to do/see. Recognize that your skills are limited (that said, I don’t know your background so it would depend on such) and that you’re primarily there to observe and learn from a clinical environment. Hopefully you’ll be able to soak up the environment just by being there and seeing what’s happening, etc.



Thanks for responding! The volunteer coordinator has already said there is no option for patient-centered volunteering at this hospital. I’m hoping that what you said is exactly what will happen: the people I work with will allow me to do more than is specifically indicated.

I actually never thought I’d be allowed to do THAT much, but even candy-stripers (do they even still exist?) actually see patients. The wing I’m in is set up in such a way that I don’t see patients at all unless they are going to the elevator, and there are other elevators they can use, so I’ve actually only seen one patient use that elevator. I have absolutely no interaction, not even seeing the nurses and doctors do their jobs, so there’s really nothing for me to learn.

You would probably do better to try and find some doctors to let you shadow them. That way you might actually get to see what they do. Another idea would be to volunteer at a nursing home where you might actually have contact with patients. Having just spent many weeks putting together my own applications, I would ask yourself if it gives you something meaningful to write. If it sounds lame on paper, it won’t help you get in to medical school.

  • rachelb782 Said:
but even candy-stripers (do they even still exist?) actually see patients.

Haven't heard that name about 15 years!

I would follow the above advice and look for a doctor to shadow. Perhaps there is a free clinic that needs help? Maybe piggyback on a medical missions trip?

Do you already have some kind of direct patient experience outside of the context of being a pre-medical student?

My parents own and run an adult daycare center that I helped out at on occasion when I was younger. I didn’t enjoy that. My desire to be a doctor didn’t come about until I was pregnant with my first child and was always really fascinated by what the doctors and nurses were doing. I had a slightly complicated first pregnancy, so I had to go a lot, and my first delivery was also slightly complicated so there were a lot of different nurses and doctors and I just wanted to do everything they were doing. I shadowed one doctor and enjoyed that experience immensely, but she was only able to let me shadow one time. That’s the limit of my patient exp. The medical missions trip is an interesting thought… I may have to look into that. Thanks!