Volunteering question

Hi all. I am currently in training to volunteer at an inpatient Hospice unit. The training alone is about 20 hours total so it’s been a slow process getting to schedule in the training w/everything else going on. However, I will be finishing up training later this month and be on my way to directly working with patients up to four hours per week on the Hospice unit. I researched and interviewed for several volunteer opportunities before settling on Hospice. I was very moved and feel it will give me excellent experience. It is something I would like to do whether or not I was a premed.

That being said, I will have direct patient contact and will be helping the nurses with whatever I am allowed to do as a volunteer. As most of us nontrad premeds, I have little time to squeeze much more in to my schedule. I do, however, plan to do some shadowing before I apply to med school, but anything else will be a real stretch. Will shadowing and volunteering on a Hospice inpatient unit be enough? Should I be seeking out some more clinical experience? Am I a paranoid freak? Lol. I don’t want to just pad my resume with line after line of stuff that I cannot really commit to. I’d rather commit to less and give them more of me than just overload my schedule, risk my grades and sanity and time with my daughter, and just do more things half assed. But, seriously, will this be sufficient? I have excellent grades (4.0 in all premed prereqs thus far and 3.98 overall), excellent support from profs and expect some pretty great recommendations from them. I am a single mom (with loads of support mind you!) I have worked hard at my job of the last six years moving my way up the ranks rather quickly and could get a great lor from my boss. I am a nominee for a pretty big time scholarship (won’t hear anything until Spring. Fingers crossed). All that being said, I think I’m a pretty competitive candidate, but realize, too, that the world of medical school admissions is super competitive also and that I will be up against a lot of similarly and more competitive and stellar traditional applicants so I don’t want to miss a beat! I have a lot to lose as us OPM’s know better than anyone and little time to make up for “lost time” sometime down the line. This is my “make up” for lost time!

A little background also: I worked in a few medical offices as a receptionist years ago before I moved out of the city and wound up at my current non-medical job six years ago. So, while reception experience is not clinical I have had exposure to the everyday medical office. In one position it was just me, a nurse and the doctor and so I got to help out a lot in ways that go beyond the scheduling and insurance verification duties of most medical receptionists. This was several years ago, so I wouldn’t count it as “experience” per se on a med school application, but exposure? Yes.

I don’t want any holes when it comes to applying in 2013! Advice welcome and apologies for being so verbose!

Hi Shannon, Happy New Year to you!

I would, following the great guru in our forum, say: BREATH and relax.

You seem to be on your way regarding the volunteering, and as other more experienced members recommend, always put quality over quantity and avoid anything looking like a checklist.

It is about doing what brings passion to your life and it seems that you have found it.

Good luck with your scholarships and look forward to hearing from your success, your GPA is absolutely impressive.

Thanks, Cesar! Happy New Year! It seems just when I am on the top of my game, some doubt sneaks in, and I find myself worrying about little details eventhough in my heart I realize I’m doing everything right and letting my passions lead me and doing the hard work necessary, too.

I found myself watching a rerun of Boston Med on the OWN channel and felt a slight sinking feeling when I realized I was watching 26 year old residents and I won’t be so lucky to be a one myself until I’m over 40. Then, I realized I still have to get in to med school and I will be up against 22 year olds with all the time in the world to volunteer, save the world, serve on commitees, be president of the Save the World club at school, babysit for their profs kids while doing research for them, too, etc, etc. and show up at med school interviews looking fresh faced and untired at all! So, yes, some FUD creeped in as I let my mind wander through these grossly exaggerated stereotypical scenarios of a traditional med school applicant. I know in my heart that if I were on an adcom, I’d want me in med school, but I still wonder, gosh in this world where high school kids are winning science awards that are very far from papier mache volcanos (think cancer research!) I freak myself out and wonder if I’m really doing enough?


You just said it: “grossly exaggerated stereotypical scenarios of a traditional med school applicant”.

We are OPMs, so we are here to beat stereotypes, specially those implanted by TV producers, who after all, know enough psychology to understand that for their series to be successful, they need to transmit youthful energy to their audiences.

Don’t you think a drama series about some 40ish med residents would be just as appealing to the general public? BTW, I believe it would!

Concentrate on continuing building that awesome application portfolio and worry about nothing else, everything else will fall into place.

I think your volunteer plan is great. Schools look for dedication and what you get outf it, not that you did 10 different activities. You will have wonderful experiences to discuss during your interviews.

Shadowing and volunteering is enough, especially since you were exposed to doctors with your previous job. Just make sure that you show commitment towards your medical activities, so don’t just do it for like a few months. You want to show admissions that patients and medicine is a passion, not just a hoop you have to jump through to get into medical school.

Great advice so far. I am committing up to 4 hours a week to hospice volunteering and my commitment will be at least one year. I hope to matriculate in 2014 and really hope to volunteer up until I start med school.

I still have to find the time to do shadowing, too, but I am sure I will be able to put some feelers out with the docs who work hospice. I also intend to connect with the premed advisor on this and possibly also contact the county medical society and/or the academic medical community in town. I want to get some more exposure to hospital based medicine particularly the ED, ICU, and IM from the hospitalist perspective. I hope to shadow (at least) one full shift in each of these areas and hopefully one of these will be a night shift as I want to be exposed to the glories of shift work, too!

At any rate, I am happy to hear that others feel shadowing and my volunteer role will be enough. I know a fellow premed who just signs up for everything, and I mean everything (science related or not) and I got to wonder sometimes how much this person is robbing Peter to pay Paul at the end of the day. That is just not how I roll and I don’t want to start. I was even asked to tutor Biology by my prof and despite the great opportunity to help others and pad my resume had to just say no. I could not find an extra minute to do this. I did get to teach his human anatomy lab twice during the semester, though! I took off work to fulfill this. However, it was less of a padding the resume activity as I truly enjoy teaching (my future in medical education is calling), LOVE anatomy and jumped at the chance to get to do both. Plus, I got some cadaver time. But, to commit to a semester of tutoring couldn’t be done, so I declined. I personally think time management and knowing when to say enough is enough is a great skill to have, but of course, FUD enters, and I fear that, despite a very loaded plate of things done well, that I’m still somehow not doing enough. Some days I feel like I should be opening a free clinic and going to Haiti over Spring Break even though neither of these things are feasible for me right now. Thanks for the reassurance everyone that I am enough and am doing “enough”.

Shannon, you are singing my tune! I worry about this all the time! I work full time and have a family, and I go to class at night–so that leaves all of NO time to get any clinical/hospital exposure.

I have tons of volunteer experience, because it’s a large part of being in my family–but I just made the decision to get on the med school train, and it left me very little time between decision and application to get in any kind of “med school” type volunteering.

I’ve always worked with students–so for me, tutoring was a wonderful experience. Once I got Gen Chem under my belt, I immediately started tutoring high school honors chemistry…but like you said, it’s because I enjoy it and find it meaningful more than anything. The double bonus is that it keeps the material fresh for my spring MCAT.

That hospital piece, though… that just hasn’t happened yet. I have to make class a priority, and family comes first…so I’ve been struggling. But this month, I’ve worked it out with some of my colleagues to begin volunteering in the NICU and ED of one of our larger local hospitals. I can do it at night during the week (after class), and during the weekends…so I just have to work out a schedule that makes sense.

I’m also adding MCAT prep, so I’m not sure how that will all happen… but I’ll get done what I can get done, and I will make sure it’s enough to be meaningful for ME… hopefully it will also be sufficient for the application in June.

I think you’re on the right track–just do what’s meaningful and what matters to you. Do enough to give you a broad look at the job you are jumping into, and make sure that it’s something you are still excited about when you’re done. Beyond that, it’s just bonus!

Good luck this spring!!

It’s crazy isn’t it, carrieliz? We get ourselves so worked up over this stuff. I’ve been following your posts and I’d say you appear to be an excellent candidate for med school without adding anything else to your plate! We should follow our own advice and do what matters and what is meaningful and, of course, keep the nose to the grindstone on the school stuff and we’ll be okay!

G/L on your MCAT prep. You are a year ahead of me. I intend to take the MCAT in summer 2013, apply in Fall and matriculate in 2014. I have been using whatever spare second I have (yeah, right) to do MCAT prep but I’m not through all my prereqs, yet, so I can only go so far. I’ll be finishing up my prereqs in the spring of 2013 and then taking the MCAT in the summer so I don’t know when I’ll be squeezing in the prep during that spring semester so I hear you loud and clear!

Somehow, I’m confident we’ll both make it work and kick tail and get into med school! I’m rooting for you all the way and will be following you on your journey.

I’ll add my two cents. I think that volunteering isn’t about quantity, but more about quality. When you go into interviews they don’t ask you how many hours or how many different volunteering opportunities you have had. They ask you what it was like for you. As long as you can derive some meaning and communicate that meaning on your application and in interviews you will have a leg up on most of the folks who do “X Y and Z” in order to fill a spot.

An odd question re: volunteering…As I look at my life to date, I have very little “volunteering” to claim aside from religiously donating blood every 8-10 weeks. Am I totally off-base to look at my primary job as having been the diligent raising of four kids, with my “secondary” full time job (ICU RN) being my primary community service?

I truly do see what I do in my position as a nurse as a service to both my community and my co-workers. Mentoring the young/new nurses is a priority for me, and the service I render to my patients is not “just a job”. It provides a nice paycheck, but I wouldn’t be doing it (or pursuing a medical degree, for that matter) if I wasn’t in it for the people. Raising four kids is not inconsequential, either - hence all of the formal mentoring programs out there for kids whose parents may be needing help with that process.

Shannon, thanks for the vote of confidence! You may be a year behind me, but I promise…you will blink and it will be here!!

Annette–I don’t think you’re off base at ALL. This is just my opinion, but the volunteering piece is really to show a sense of altruism and a service oriented heart/spirit. If you think about the traditional applicant (coming right out of college), he/she has not really had the time to prove that in any other way BUT volunteering and service projects.

For non-trads, however, we have life experience. The very idea that you chose an entire profession dedicated to the healing and service of others speaks volumes, and accomplishes way more in the way of showing an adcom where your heart is!

And raising four kids is NOT inconsequential–not in the slightest. If I were an adcom looking at your information, I would see an individual who’s dedicated her life to 1)caring for and teaching children, and 2)serving and healing complete strangers.

If that doesn’t prove what you are about, I don’t know what would.

Having four children, I think you probably have more volunteering/community service than you realize. Ever helped out at your kids’ school? Helped out at sporting events? Most of the things my girls are a part of in our community require parental involvement… if you think about it, I’m sure you’ve given your community more service than you realize (even outside your full time job…which is all ABOUT community service.)

Again, just my opinion… but I think you are more than fine!

I think the biggest issue us non trad premed’s face is that there just isn’t anything out there specifically addressing us. I think this is changing, but take any getting into medical school guidebook and you’ll find maybe a chapter dedicated to the nontrad student. Unfortunately, most advisers and adcomms don’t know what to tell us so they just reiterate what they tell all the trads: Study hard, get a good gpa, do service work, shadow, and get a good MCAT score. That advice is fine, but it just does not take into account what us nontrads can bring to the table already. Lots of advisers and adcomms just don’t know what to do with us so they throw us the cookie cutter guideline to med school acceptance. As those who have gone before us have found out: that does not necessarily get you in and not following it does not necessarily keep you out.

You know, if any one of us had the time, we should be writing the book for us nontrad premeds! The Old Premeds.org guide to getting into medical school over a certain age! (While a “certain age” may not be the best description, the idea is there). These traditional student guidelines to getting into medical school make a lot of really exceptional non trad premeds freak out, overanalyze and even overextend themselves just to be competitive. However, it’s funny when any one us posts here after freaking out (like me) and sees just what it all is we have been doing, one sees that we already are competitive! It’s all just FUD sometimes!

Seriously, we must all pool our experiences, sucesses, failures, and advice together and get an honest non trad premed book out there. FUD be damned!

Just be aware that there are medical schools which look at shadowing as clinical “exposure” rather than clinical “experience.” And therefore don’t give as much credence to shadowing. If you have to make choices with your clinical time, give more weight to the in-patient experience.



Thanks, Judy. That is important advice. I certainly will be squeezing in time for shadowing, but I will be putting more effort into my inpatient hospice volunteering. I think I will attempt to shadow a few shifts over the next year and a 1/2 (I plan on MCAT in early summmer 2013 and then apply by August-I have one school for early decision in mind). I will expect to have ample hospice volunteering experience in by then and I hope to have at least a few shadowing shifts also by this time. Your advice is greatly appreciated and will be heeded!