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Why Should I Volunteer?

“Why should I volunteer? I heard all you do is clean rooms, shuttle papers, greet patients and/or hand out food. You can’t really gain any significant clinical experience. I will most likely do it but only because it is an unofficial requirement for medical school. Hopefully I can work in a hospital or clinic, maybe as a medical assistant or ER tech so I don’t have to volunteer. Or maybe I’ll be an EMT to get clinical experience. Or maybe I will participate in a summer clinical travel program. I don’t really see a good reason to volunteer other than doing it to cross it off your medical school checklist.”

Why should I volunteer? Have you ever wondered its benefits? Or have you heard someone say before what was stated above? It’s an understandable and reasonable thought. A lot of volunteer programs have bad reputations because they do not expose its volunteers to real “clinical experience.” Tasks such as taking vital signs or scrubbing in on surgeries can be huge opportunities for any volunteer, but many volunteering programs do not offer these experiences. There are, however, important reasons to volunteer at a hospital or clinic other than just to cross it off your medical school application checklist. Here are a few of those good reasons:

1. Exposure to the “ugly” side of medicine–a bigger picture of the entire process

There is a lot of behind the scenes work that needs to be done before and after the doctor sees the patient. This work is not glamorous, but it is necessary. As a volunteer, you can observe the entire process involving administrators, nurses, doctors, and anyone else who is involved. You will get a better understanding of how medicine functions as a whole just by being there and observing.

2. Tests whether you really want to be a doctor

As you see doctors work, you will get a preview of what their work consists of. From what you can observe as a volunteer, if you don’t think you’ll enjoy doing the tasks of a doctor, that might be the first sign that you are not dedicated enough to medicine. Also, a lot of volunteer experiences are relatively uneventful so you will only enjoy/endure them through your drive to become a doctor. As you’re volunteering, you might realize that all of the time you’re spending in the hospital is not worth it and decide to drop pre-med altogether.

3. Contribution to the overall health care of a patient

As a volunteer, you are one small cog in the larger machine that is medicine. You play a small role but you still contribute and still provide health care. For example, let’s say that your job as a volunteer is to call in the patient. If you forget or fail to do that, then the doctor might not see the patient on time. Then the doctor’s schedule backs up. Then the doctor is not able to provide proper health care to each patient because of the time crunch. One small miscue in the entire process has profound counsequences. Even though you’re on the bottom of the medical totem pole, your small role can make a significant difference.

4. Opens up other opportunities

As you volunteer, you might make a good impression on the doctors that you work with. You could ask one of them if they are doing any research and they could bring you on board (that’s how I got my first research gig). Perhaps you want more responsibility as a volunteer or you’re looking for another experience altogether; be on the lookout and don’t be afraid to ask someone to give you a chance.

5. Allows you to build relationships with your future coworkers

The nurses, doctors, and administrators in your clinic might not be your actual coworkers in the future, but if you become a doctor, you will eventually work with those types of people. You will learn how to interact with them and, more importantly, understand their role.

6. Humility and motivation

You are not a doctor. You are not a nurse. You are not a medical student. You can’t offer the patients much. This volunteering experience will humble you and also motivate you. You will want to be in their shoes one day.

7. Opportunity to simply help your fellow man

This is self-explanatory. Helping others is a rewarding experience. Though in a small way, you are still making the world a better place.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of ProspectiveDoctor.com. He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to ProspectiveDoctor.com, please contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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