volunteering - chaplain program okay?

Hi all,

Thanks largely to advice here, I started the journey this spring. Currently getting near perfect scores on everything in G Chem 1 & G Bio 1 and working full-time.

I’m starting to look for volunteer opportunities for the summer and need some advice regarding chaplaincy. Do you all think that such a program will have “baggage” for adcoms? In other words will perhaps some see it as having undesirable religious overtones?

Somehow, I feel a bit guilty even asking questions regarding what volunteering is best. It seems it should be done for its own sake, regardless of benefits received but obviously it has to be considered. I was actually involved with the chaplain program with my church and hospital long ago, but haven’t made the time for it in years. :frowning: It allows for direct contact with patients and their families, and it really moves me to see how grateful and touched they are by my visits.

Please give me some honest input, don’t try not to offend!


I would like to think that you would be unlikely to run into religious discrimination as such. However, the full benefit of patient and family contact via the Chaplain’s office may not be apparent to a committee member. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good experience. But, if you can find another, patient care-oriented volunteer opportunity, you might be well-advised to split your time between them. I have a great deal of faith-based volunteer experience which I made no attempt to conceal in my applications and interviews. I just made certain to balance it with other, strictly professional, healthcare related experiences.

If you would only have time to devote to the one activity, you should probably be prepared to explain - in interviews and/or your personal statement - exactly how the experience lead you to pursue a medical degree.

Hmmm, see I’m thinking it may be beneficial, though someone w/ more experience if free to prove me wrong. My husband was looking into it at one point as he could be a chaplain, if he so chose, with his degree.

Chaplaincy depts at hospitals (and some prisons as well as Military bases) are inter faith organizations. So I’m thinking it could show that you are able to provide support on a multi faith basis.

You may be called to work with a buddhist family in crisis. You may be called to work with a christian or hindi family. But if you can come away with all faith groups feeling they had a good experience with you, it can show that you are adaptable to differing views.

Just my two cents. I’m sure one of the actual docs who have been through this run already will be able to tell me if I’m on the right track or not.

I think it sounds like an excellent thing to be involved with, not only on its own merits but because you are clearly interested in it - the “eyes light up” characteristic that Judy Colwell speaks of. You obviously feel that this is worthwhile work. Go for it.


I think it sounds great. IMO, it’s more relevant and valuable than sitting at an admit desk (one of the things our local hospital does with pre-med volunteers).

I can’t imagine people being turned off by the religious aspect, but then again, I live in Texas and we are pretty religious down here.

In my experience, what admissions committees worry about is that a student may want to prosyltize patients if an applicant comes across as being very “evangelical” in one faith or another (patients being in a power down situation). But being a chaplain in a multi-faith experience shouldn’t be a problem.

Mary, did you find this to be the case when you were on the AdComm?



At GWU we had a LOT of LDS students (for those unfamiliar: LDS = Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a.k.a. Mormons). These students generally would’ve done a two-year mission, usually overseas, sometimes in the U.S. It involved proselytizing, because their purpose was to introduce people to the Mormon Church and interest them in it… but of course the folks they approached weren’t in a dependent position (as patients are); at my own front door, I have politely thanked many a Mormon missionary for his interest in my well-being and then said goodbye to him.

Anyway, I bring this up to say that I agree with Judy; as long as no one on an AdCom gets the idea that you are going into medicine in order to convert everyone to (your favorite belief here), your interest in serving people wins out. There was a woman in the class behind me (or maybe two classes behind) who was a Catholic sister. She and several Muslim women stood out for having their hair covered… as far as I’m aware, no one ever had any concerns about any of them.


… and reading this response, I fear I may’ve left the wrong impression, so let me say:

And no one had any concerns about our Mormon students, either. They clearly understood their role as missionaries was different from their role as medical students. Their interview stories about mission work made it clear that they did all sorts of interesting things that would fall under the concept of “community service.”

The other thought about this situation: if you were to find that someone at a school took a dim view of your chaplaincy experience, then that is a school that you don’t want to be at. The chaplaincy clearly strikes some major chords for you in terms of your personal values. A school that dismisses the experience, or, worse, judges it negatively is not a place you want to be.


Thanks so much for all of the thoughtful and helpful responses. I think it is likely that the differing opinions expressed here are indicative of what I will find - some pro, some con. In my own interviewing and hiring practices, I try hard not to discriminate improperly, but it can be difficult even when you are trying hard. Some things I hear colleagues saying about applicants make me cringe when I realize some people don’t even try not to discriminate - they just do it quietly.

My biggest concern is that a single adcom member or interviewer could choose to look at it negatively, even if the school as a whole might not be that way.

On the other hand, I can understand having honest and legitimate concerns about how a caregiver’s belief systems are going to affect patients.

So… I’ll probably try to find something more “neutral” for now. My biggest difficulty right now is how to find something that will allow direct patient contact and also opportunities to eventually get to know a physician well enough to get a letter of recommendation.

Thanks loads for the advice. You are wonderful people!

Whoa! Yikes! I am not sure that any of us gave a “negative” opinion of your chaplaincy idea. The bottom line is that YOU should make the decision about what really matters to you and what you can speak about most enthusiastically and forcefully. Your primary motivator should be what you want to do, what you value. If that is the chaplaincy program, then you do it and figure out how to represent it in a way that is positive for you.

I truly do not believe that you are at all likely to encounter an interviewer at a med school who would treat this sort of volunteer service with prejudice. And as I said before, if you did, then you should seriously question whether you’d want to go there anyway.

Please, please, please: you need to be true to yourself. Don’t pick an activity because it looks good or seems attractive to AdComs. Pick it because it is important to YOU - and then figure out how to present it to an AdCom so that they appreciate its importance.

I am truly dismayed that you came away with the impression that there were people discouraging you from doing this. I think it sounds marvelous - and while I respect everyone’s viewpoint on here, I think only Judy and I have experience with med school interviews.

Please reconsider!


You know I’ve always felt really strongly about volunteering, it’s something I’ve always done and I think any volunteering that you do is valuable and I think that the adcoms would appreciate any experience that a person opens themselves to where they are doing it simply because they like to.

I volunteer at the ASPCA and people keep saying “that won’t help you with medical school” and I keep telling them that I volunteer there because I love the dogs and they are short staffed and if I don’t go there alot of those dogs just sit in the kennels all day with no attention which often times leads to them becoming aggressive and unadoptable. It’s not all about what my volunteering can do for me…I think that when I get into my interview and that’s one of the things included on my application that when I talk about it the adcoms will see that I put in alot of unpaid hours in the heat and cold with some smelly dogs cleaning up poo because I wanted to help those animals, not just to make my resume look good for medical school and I think that even though that experience isn’t at all “medically relevant” that it will make me look alot better than those folks that only volunteered so that they could put it on their resume for med school.

I think the same could be true of your chaplain thing. It’s something you feel strongly about. And that’s what they are going to care about.

To add my $0.02 (can’t find the “cents” sign on my keyboard)…I agree wholeheartedly with Mary. There was no negative implied in our comments. You need to be true to yourself and if a med school doesn’t like it, it’s not the place for you. It’s unlikely, as Mary indicated as well, that a single person on an AdComm would have the kind of influence you are worried about. Don’t ever give up “who you are” in this process. And remember the Dancing Eye syndrome. :slight_smile: (Do what makes your eyes dance when you talk about it…if they don’t dance, find something else that does make your eyes dance.)



(Writing while glued to March Madness.)

Hmmm… Much food for thought here. I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the last three days since I read Mary’s last post. I think that the last several posts touched on what I mentioned in my first post. I noted feeling guilty even asking about what volunteering would be beneficial and that it should be done for its own sake.

I do feel a reassured that individual adcom members might have less veto power than I thought. Obviously I know next to nothing about that process and am coming to this issue from the perspective of my own experience of being the ultimate, single decision-maker in hire/fire decisions for employees in many cases.

To be honest, I am also pretty relieved that I’m being encouraged to do the chaplain program. There is such a difference in that and other types of volunteering I’ve done. For some reason, the response and interaction with the people feels so much more meaningful, effective, and helpful than the work I’ve done with low income and homeless. I don’t really know what it is, but there’s something special about it. I suppose it’s probably because of the vulnerability and psychological state associated with being a patient or family-member of a patient. Obviously that brings great responsibility to exercise caution.

As far as proselytizing, that really isn’t much of an issue since chaplains only visit those who have specifically requested a visit from a chaplain, and usually of their own or a similar religion/denomination.

I was not considering doing anything strictly for its appearance, but was going to look for a compromise between what is meaningful to me and would be neutral. I was a little freaked out I guess because of the negativity I’ve experienced from some strongly science-oriented people. One of my Biology lectures this semester included a 25-minute tirade ridiculing religion, including presenting multiple slides depicting God as various types of ridiculous monsters.

Since admission appears to be more of a committee decision than a single person’s, this might help me avoid the rare school that might be that way.

I think that I’m going to go ahead and do the chaplain program, and if I have time to do other volunteering over the summer, I will.

Good for you lign!

I think you will end up being happy with your decision.