One of the core requirements for any BS/MD program is having health care volunteering. But what does that mean to you as a student. This post will focus on understanding health care volunteering.
First we have to clarify what we mean by volunteering. Volunteering is something that you do to help someone else. Doctor shadowing is not volunteering because no one benefits from this other that you, the student. Spending time at a food shelf is volunteering. All volunteering is helpful in general college admissions.
But, if you are interested in BS/MD programs, you want the focus to be on helping in a health care related setting. This is also sometimes referred to as clinical contact. Many people think this means helping in a hospital. However, for BS/MD programs health care has a much broader definition including not just hospitals but also clinics, nursing homes, dementia facilities, centers for autisic childrenren and so on. In many cases, it is much easier to find opportunities to help at these facilities rather than in hospitals. Hospitals also often have students help at the front desk or the gift shop so that they don’t have any real contact with patients. But it is the connection with patients that we like to see. If you can get positions with patient contact like patient transportation or working as a type of nurses aid, then hospitals can work. But helping residents of a nursing home during meals or reading to them or even just talking with them works just as well for purposes of the BS/MD programs. This type of volunteering can also be done virtually so you have options even during a pandemic.
Now we come to the real area of concern for many students when it comes to helping in a health care setting. How many hours do you need? The good news is that medical schools like to see regular, consistent involvement and generally aren’t as concerned about how many hours you have. I most commonly recommend that a student volunteer an hour or two a week if it is done weekly throughout the year.
Let’s look at an example to see why consistent involvement is more important than just hours. Student A volunteers at her local dementia facility every week for one hour per week and does this most weeks for two years. Student A will have about 100 hours. Student B doesn’t do any volunteering until the summer before senior year. He volunteers 40 hours a week for 10 weeks. Student B has 400 hours of volunteering. Who looks like they actually like helping people: Student A with two years of involvement or Student B with 10 weeks of involvement?
One of the things I regularly see is the student that only volunteers during the summer. There is nothing wrong with helping during the summer but it is typically easier to do it then rather than during the school year because you have more time. But helping during the school year, when it isn’t as easy to do because of other time commitments, you look like you really like helping people.
There is no such thing as the perfect health care activity. Find something that works for you, that involves patient contact and that you can do on a regular, consistent basis, and you will be covered for health care involvement. And don’t forget, the longer you do this activity, the stronger your application will be.