Every volunteering opportunity is a chance for you to make a difference, to grow personally, and, as an added bonus, strengthen your medical school application. Volunteering comes in many shapes and sizes; it can look like:
- Partnering with international organizations
- Working at a soup kitchen
- Leading senior center recreational activities
- Serving as a caretaker at an animal shelter
- Being a Big Brother or Big Sister
- Doing patient intake at the local clinic
- Educating the public at a community health fair
Volunteer work demonstrates your commitment to serving the community, and as a pre-med, it also provides valuable experiences that can shape your future career in healthcare.
Benefits of Volunteering for Pre-meds
Volunteering as a pre-med student comes with a host of benefits, including standing out to admissions committees. Giving your time can provide you with a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence.
What are some benefits of volunteering as a premed? For pre-health students, the benefits of volunteering include:
- Real-world exposure: Volunteering provides pre-med students with exposure to the realities of the healthcare system and a sense of the day-to-day tasks in a healthcare setting. When you volunteer internationally to partner with medical organizations, you’ll also get insight into how medical care differs around the world.
- Hands-on experience: Whether it's clinical or non-clinical, volunteering offers a valuable opportunity for hands-on experience at medical centers or local hospitals. When you partner with licensed medical professionals, you can get firsthand exposure to what it’s like to work with patients one-on-one.
- Skill development: Interacting with patients and healthcare professionals allows you to cultivate essential skills such as empathy, compassion, and communication. These skills are integral to the medical field and medical school admissions committees look for them in their candidates.
- Exploration of interests: You have the opportunity to explore and deepen your interests in medicine when you join a volunteer project. You may find that volunteering at a cancer center makes you realize oncology is not for you, but when you provided volunteer services at a children’s hospital, it sparked your passion for pediatrics.
- Networking opportunities: Volunteering often leads to interactions with healthcare professionals, offering a chance to build relationships with potential mentors and expand your professional network.
- Personal growth: The experiences and challenges you face while volunteering can foster personal growth, boosting your resilience, adaptability, and problem-solving skills.
Volunteer experience is also a great way to stand out when applying to med school. Your GPA and MCAT score aren’t the only areas where you need to shine on your medical school application.
Participating in a pre-med volunteer program can bolster the extracurricular activities section of your application. Your experiences can provide a story for your personal statement, and if you develop a relationship with doctors you work alongside, they may provide letters of recommendation.
Clinical Volunteering Opportunities
Clinical volunteering opportunities take place in a healthcare setting, such as a health center, free clinic, nursing home, mobile medical clinic, or cancer center. When a pre-med student is involved with patient care or interacting directly with patients, it is considered clinical experience.
Clinical opportunities can be found at:
- Local hospitals
- Assisted living facilities
- Rehabilitation centers
- Patient transporters
- Non-profit organizations like Global Medical Brigades
Hospitals and public health departments generally have volunteer programs readily available on their websites. Tasks for these volunteers can vary from administrative assistance and outreach to interacting with patients and holding vaccination clinics.
Administrative volunteering will not count as clinical experience, so be sure to have a clear understanding of the duties before making a commitment.
Free clinics and health screening camps often need volunteers to assist with patient and participant intake and basic healthcare under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Your local firehouse or government may accept volunteers for emergency medical services, like EMTs. Some roles require additional certifications, but the hands-on clinical experience is a great foot in the door to a career in emergency medicine.
Your university may have a volunteer board where opportunities are posted. You should also speak with your pre-health advisors for recommendations and advice.
For in-depth clinical experience and an opportunity to make a difference in underserved communities abroad, consider volunteering with Global Medical Brigades. You’ll work alongside medical professionals to implement sustainable health systems.
Your participation also funds year-round clinics that Global Brigades operates to serve vulnerable populations, such as its Greece Athens clinics supporting migrants and refugees.
You can demonstrate your leadership abilities while also gaining clinical experience when you become a chapter leader for a brigade at your university.
Learn about how we’re the largest student-led movement for global health.
Non-Clinical Volunteering Opportunities
Beyond the walls of healthcare facilities, numerous non-clinical volunteering opportunities can enrich your pre-med journey.
What is an example of non-clinical volunteering premed? Examples include community service projects, outreach programs at local shelters, or tutoring high school students.
These activities demonstrate your commitment to service and can provide a well-rounded perspective of health issues in your community. It’s a good idea to have both clinical and non-clinical volunteering experiences to show that you are not just volunteering for your own gain.
Volunteering During Undergrad vs. a Gap Year
Your individual circumstances and commitments will likely determine your availability to volunteer. It is best to start volunteering as soon as you are able to find the time. If you can manage to volunteer as early as your first year at a university, that is outstanding!
If you have other commitments that require more attention, consider pushing off any major volunteer projects until you have a break or take a gap year. If you do take a gap year but have already had some volunteer experience, we still highly recommend participating in volunteer work during this period.
Both approaches have their benefits. Volunteering during undergrad allows you to integrate your experiences with your studies, giving you a better understanding of the course material. On the other hand, volunteering during a gap year can allow you to dedicate more time and focus on the experiences, potentially leading to more significant roles or leadership positions.
If you have your heart set on volunteering abroad, but aren’t able to make the time commitment to travel yet, partner with us on a TeleBrigade.
How Much Time to Spend Volunteering as a Pre-med
Each medical school has its own requirements for volunteer hours. There's no definitive rule on how many volunteer hours a pre-med should have but, the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) suggests that successful applicants usually have around 100 hours of community service.
What is the difference between volunteering and shadowing? Volunteering typically involves providing a service for free, whereas shadowing is an observational experience wherein you follow a doctor during their typical workday.
While shadowing, you gain a realistic understanding of the responsibilities and challenges of your future profession.
Quality Experiences, Not Quantity of Experiences
It is beneficial to be well-rounded with both clinical and non-clinical volunteer experience, but these service hours should be meaningful.
Spending one day at a testing clinic versus 2 hours each week for a few months supporting public health services are two very different volunteer experiences. Similarly, serving as a chapter leader for a Global Medical Brigade can show an ongoing commitment to strengthening your skills as a leader, future physician, and global citizen.
Depth in one area can reflect commitment and passion. Medical school admissions committees prefer seeing long-term volunteer projects. To them, it shows your dedication and ability to take on more responsibility.
At the end of the day, it is the quality of your experiences over quantity that will be better for your personal and professional growth (and your medical school application).
How to Write About Your Volunteering on a Med School Application
Writing about your volunteer experiences on your medical school application is where you can focus on how the time has influenced you and shaped your desire to pursue medicine.
Here are some tips:
- Emphasize the skills gained: Highlight the skills you’ve developed and how they will help you as a medical student and a future physician. Even non-clinical volunteering teaches transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and empathy. If you lead a brigade, you’ll demonstrate attention to detail and many other soft skills in addition to the patient interactions you experience.
- Explain the impact: Discuss how your volunteering experiences impacted you personally. Maybe they strengthened your commitment to healthcare, expanded your cultural competency, changed your medical interests, or helped you better understand the needs of a certain population.
- Highlight your initiative: If you took on a leadership role, like becoming a Global Medical Brigades Chapter President, during your volunteer work, include that. Medical schools value students who demonstrate initiative and leadership.
- Demonstrate commitment: Long-term commitment to a volunteering project can highlight your dedication. If possible, indicate the duration of your commitment and the number of hours you volunteered.
- Show understanding of healthcare: If you volunteered in a clinical setting, highlight what you learned about patient care, healthcare systems, medical professions, or even hospital administration.
- Relate to personal qualities: Connect your volunteer experiences to personal qualities or experiences that make you a unique candidate. You will stand out to admissions committees and help them see you as a whole person, not just a list of scores and accomplishments.
- Avoid medical jargon: While it's important to accurately describe your experiences, avoid using too much medical terminology. Not everyone on the admissions committee may be a physician, and it's important to make sure your experiences are understandable to all in attendance.
Remember, the goal is not just to list what you did, but to show how your experiences shaped you as a person and a future physician.
Get the Most Out of Volunteering
Volunteering should not be seen as a box to tick for your medical school application, but an opportunity to gain valuable skills, insights, and connections in the healthcare field.
What is the best way to volunteer as a premed? The best way to volunteer as a premed is to lead a Global Medical Brigades chapter. You’ll gain invaluable experience that will apply to nearly every part of your medical career from patient care to strong leadership, and you’ll partner with a sustainability-focused organization making positive contributions to a global community.
Sometimes volunteering takes us out of our comfort zones. Remember to reflect on your experiences, the skills you are learning, and the insights you are gaining. Volunteering is a great opportunity to network and open doors.
Global Medical Brigades offers 7-9 day volunteer opportunities to Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Ghana, and Greece. You have the opportunity to work alongside a licensed healthcare provider in mobile clinics.
Students can also demonstrate their initiative by becoming a Chapter President. By starting a chapter on your campus you are not only showing your leadership skills but your willingness to support and commit to your peers in their medical journeys.
Partner with the work being done on the ground — join a brigade!