I’m at the early stages of this process, but will have my volunteer orientation at a local hospital (also the local medical school) this week. While I really want to volunteer in the ER, the volunteer coordinator has emailed me saying that they are in desperate need of volunteers in the gift shop and family area. I’m thinking of starting my volunteer experience in the family area, and then moving to the ER later. My question is, does the volunteer experience specifics matter a whole lot?

Take this with a grain of salt because I was an outlier with no volunteering on my app, but the way I understand it, they want to see a commitment to service versus some specific act of volunteerism. It shouldn’t be a chore to you, and you should pick something that you enjoy and/or are passionate about versus something you think “they” want to see. It’ll benefit you doing your interviews if you can talk intelligently about why you chose what you did, what you were able to accomplish, and what you got out of it both personally and professionally (in the sense of how it makes you a better applicant).

Keep in mind there is a difference between clinical and non-clinical volunteering. I don’t think you have to have one or the other, but they do expect you to have some exposure to the medical practice setting so you have a good understanding of what you’re getting yourself into. I don’t think the areas they’re planning to assign you would be considered clinical, though you will no doubt get a good view of the emotional side of medicine. I got my clinical exposure through shadowing (highly recommended/expected, only actually a written requirement for some schools), and the hospital would be a great place to network to line up shadowing opportunities.

Areas like the ER are usually in high demand among volunteers. Each hospital likely has their own policy, but oftentimes you’re not eligible to be in the ER or other high-demand areas until you’ve already volunteered somewhere else.

You’ll certainly see different things depending on where you go, but also remember that above all, you’re there to help, so it’s probably a case of “you get out of it what you put into it.”

Also, one of the weak spots of my application is a lack of consistent experience, so if it’s a case of these areas now versus waiting longer to get in where you want to be, I would definitely encourage you to take anything you can to get started on your volunteering and then working to move into where you want to be.

What I have heard from many of our predecessors and “advisors” on this forum is that schools look for experiences where you have been able to “smell the patient”. There was a glut of volunteers in the ER where I was as well, so I did med/surg for a while - filling water pitchers, and delivering flowers, but got some great face-to-face with patients. It’s true that you may start out somewhere you are not sure you want to be. The library cart, or mail delivery, is another option that will get you closer to patients until the ER opens up.