I am a miracle made up of particles and in this existence I'll stay persistent and I'll make a difference and I will have lived it - Medicine for the People

Ain't Nobody Got Time for Volunteering

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Everybody, I have a confession to make - this is how I feel every time a secondary app asks me to talk about my community service experiences:



OK, not seriously, but this is a tough one for me because honestly, I LOVE volunteering. It’s such a great way to give back to your community and it’s so fulfilling. I really enjoy it every time I get the chance to participate. The problem is that I don’t get that chance very often. I’ve always had to have a job to support myself and I just never had the time to do anything except that and go to school. After undergrad I started a post-bac program and let me tell you, taking classes at night and working all day and studying in between literally gives you no spare time. Unfortunately, most of hospital volunteer programs I was interested in demanded a certain time commitment that I was just unable to give. I was able to volunteer for a semester at Beth Israel (which was amazing) and I also work with a non-profit aid organization (Ascovime) but when I talk to my peers I always feel like it’s not enough. Some of them didn’t get jobs SPECIFICALLY so they could volunteer, which is wonderful and I’m glad they were able to have that opportunity but that was just not a possibility for me.

So, while I have a lot of research experience under my belt, it’s a bit nerve-wracking when it comes to filling out the “volunteer experiences” section of apps because I just don’t have a laundry list to put on there. I’m always so nervous that schools will see that and take it as proof that I’m not service-minded or that I don’t care about my community which isn’t true. The few opportunities I have had to volunteer have had an incredible impact on my life and one of the things I look forward to in the next year is being able to volunteer more.

Thinking about this recently has made me realize that it’s important to find creative ways to accomplish what I want. Recently working at the NAPVI conference is a great example because it was only a weekend but it was such a great event to be involved in. I was talking to a friend the other day who mentioned that there are several organizations that don’t demand a huge time commitment for volunteering; you just have to find them. That conversation reminded me that my contributions don’t always have to be in the field of medicine, there are a million other efforts that are close to my heart that I can join. I did some searching on the interwebs and found this fantastic website that lists all kinds of requests in the Boston neighborhood for volunteers in a variety of areas including the environment, crisis relief, health etc. You can also connect with other volunteers through Boston Volunteer Bridge whose mission is “to increase the level of civic activism in our community by making volunteer opportunities available and accessible for time-constrained young professionals and graduate students.”

It’s stressful to feel like part of your application might not be as substantial as you’d like, but the exciting thing is that you almost always have the opportunity to improve it! It’s just important to not give up when you get frustrated. Keep looking for alternative ways to get to where you want to be and it will happen!

Volunteering, Boston, PreMed

2 comments:

Julia Schulkers said...

I faced a similar problem when I was applying to the Peace Corps. I remember sitting in the interview with the recruiter and she asked about my recent volunteering experience. Embarrassed, I admitted that the bulk of my experience was all from high school. She seemed a bit disappointed, but I explained that I was a full-time college student funding my own tuition completely. I always carried two to three jobs to be able to pay as much per semester as possible. It's a different world we're living in as college students. This maybe suggests that med students need to consider taking a gap year to fulfill this (unspoken) requirement or come from families with enough money to help fund our way through school. Thanks for posting.

Twitter: @Julia Schulkers
Blog: julia946.wordpress.com

Chantal Mendes said...

Thanks for your comment! I definitely agree that this is a problem that a lot of applicants face. I also think that makes it important for admissions committees to consider work experience to be valuable instead of just stressing community service and grades. I've learned so much through all the jobs I've had over the years and I definitely feel that they've made me a more rounded person. I have been able to do community service but not as much as I'd like because it's hard to find the time. I think a gap year is a great idea but that not having a huge amount of volunteer experience shouldn't preclude you from applying. Obviously the way you spend your time is very important but if your family isn't supporting you that shouldn't mean you will be viewed as a less competitive applicant because you work instead of volunteer at the hospital ten hours a week.

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