PineappleGirl

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I was wondering if anyone here has done Peace Corps and then applied to medical school?
What was your experience like?
Did you think it was worth it?
Is there anything you can really do to affect your placement?
(I am worried that because I have a degree in French, I would automatically be placed in West Africa. I would really prefer to go to Latin America and improve my Spanish).

Any comments on this much appreciated.
I did a search on SDN and noticed several people have mentioned Peace Corps, but not in any detail.
 

uptoolate

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Yes- I did Peace Corps right after college (95-97-YIKES!). I then ended up as acting assistant director for the health program in my assigned country for about a year. There is very little about my current life that would be the same had I not done Peace Corps- it was an incredible and very valuable experience. That said, it was difficult and often lonely. Volunteers now have wide access to e-mail and often, cell phones, so its not like it used to be. I would sometimes go for months without speaking English to a native speaker, let alone talk to my mom- but things are very different now.

Your French degree would likely land you in a francophone country. You can request to wait for a Spanish speaking country but it will most likely extend the time it takes to find you a placement. It used to take about a year or so from submission of application to leaving for assignment- but I know people who have been processed more quickly. That said, the Africa region used to biggest in terms of number of active programs but there have been many closing in recent years while the LACRO (Latin America/Caribbean) region has been increasing a lot. So, it might not take as long as to get a Spanish speaking assignment it has in the past.

To jump right into the cliche, Peace Corps did change my life, my world view, everything, in a very profound way. Its not for everyone, but if you think it may be for you- it was well worth the sacrifices in entailed.

Talk to a recruiter- there;s no obligation and they have plenty of more updated information that would better answer your questions.
 

biendesalud

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Yep, Peace Corps was great. When I finished college I bascially considered three choices: grad school, work, Peace Corps. It was clear to me which would be most exciting and fulfilling. You can do PC later in life, but I think that after college is one of the best times to go. In fact, it will help your med school application stand out more when you get back (although I was not even planning on med school then). I was in service about the same time as Uptoolate and it is true that things are different now. E-mail and cell phones make all the difference (although you can always choose to give them up for the time you are down there). I enjoyed being out in the sticks. No electricity makes things very peaceful.

The key to PC, both getting in and getting through, is motivation. Having language skills is helpful and having some hands on experience (albeit minimal) in your area is required, but self-motivation and persistance is what is going to make the difference. My supervisor came to my site twice in 2.5 years (for less than an hour each time), so it's not like you have someone telling you what to do.

If you want to go to a Spanish speaking country, just push for it. There were people in my group who spoke French or had never spoken a foreign language at all. The three months of language training is enough to get anybody ready and if you are not ready after that, then they just extend your training.

I had a solid education and future career in another field before PC and now I'm going into medicine because I haven't been able to find anything else as fulfilling in the years since my return - so, yes, it impacted my life.

There are always going to be some tough times, but I never wished that I was anywhere else or doing anything else during my service. Overall, it was a great experience that I would recommend to anybody who was considering it seriously.

The recruiters are generally Return Peace Corps Volunters (RPCVs) as well and are chill (i.e. they are mainly there to answer questions, not push that you sign up), so find a local event and check it out:

http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=meet.events
 

Psycho Doctor

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that seems like such an awesome service and those who have engaged in it seem like they had the experience of their lives. I have somuch respect for anyone who gave time to such a valuable organization. Americorps is another one. I wish with all my heart I had done it too, but now where i am, i'm not sure i'd do it now. :(
 

wisteria

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PineappleGirl said:
I was wondering if anyone here has done Peace Corps and then applied to medical school?
What was your experience like?
Did you think it was worth it?
Is there anything you can really do to affect your placement?
(I am worried that because I have a degree in French, I would automatically be placed in West Africa. I would really prefer to go to Latin America and improve my Spanish).

Any comments on this much appreciated.
I did a search on SDN and noticed several people have mentioned Peace Corps, but not in any detail.
i just got back from mali, in west africa, where i was doing malaria research in bamako for several weeks. I had a good friend from college who was stationed in mali for peace corps and so I ended up spending a lot of time with her and other volunteers. they had all been there for over a year and honestly, they were a depressing bunch to hang out with.

that said the peace corps volunteers gain a great deal of spiritual and personal development while working in west africa. There's a lot to learn form living in a mud hut with no running water and electricity in ridiculous heat. but in terms of having a significant impact, your work probably won't matter, which is why i think the volunteers are somewhat depressing to hang out with. their focus, when convening in the city (they come in from small towns from time to time) is drinking and smoking a lot and bitching about how they can’t get anything done.

the problem with peace corps is that in general the volunteers have no skills besides a BA, which is pretty useless in Africa. the only volunteers who really seem to have impact are the agricultural volunteers, who are mostly "the smart bunch" with engineering degrees and can help design and build things like irrigation sytems, water treatment systems, etc. the rest of the volunteers don't get anything done. their projects are rarely sustainable (exist after they leave).

and frankly, i totally related after working in a lab there for several weeks. the culture is very different there, and it's not conducive to getting things done. it's a complex issue, one that i don't have time to elaborate on it here. Basically it’s related to the greater phenomena: tons of aid has gone into Africa, and very little has happened as a result. you should think about this before you devote 2 years of your life to "making a difference." and west africa is very harsh lifestyle. the drop out rate is around 20-30% for peace corps. i'm not joking about living in a mud hut with no running water and no electricity.

but if you just want the experience, and can deal with the fact that you won’t indeed save Africa afterall (which is the goal everyone arrives with), and are happy to settle with a comprehensive cultural emersion experience, then you'll have a wonderful time.

but if you think this is really something you want to try, PM me and i'll put you in touch with my peace corp volunteer friend who works in Mali (they do have erratic access to email) and she will be happy to share her experiences. at this point, she's pretty disillusioned and is hoping the experience will provide the strong resume boost for grad school. but she adores her host family and really values what the experience has taught her. it toughens you up like nothing else.

my comments are only relavant to volunteering in west africa. i imagine volunteers may have much greater impact in other countries/regions.

and peace corps will only help your med school application if you already have good grades and mcats. if your grades/mcat sucks, piling on the ECs won't make a difference.
 

biendesalud

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wisteria said:
i just got back from mali, in west africa, where i was doing malaria research in bamako for several weeks. I had a good friend from college who was stationed in mali for peace corps and so I ended up spending a lot of time with her and other volunteers. they had all been there for over a year and honestly, they were a depressing bunch to hang out with.
I'm glad this came up because the 'negative' stories do need to be addressed.

It's best not to enter PC or medicine thinking that you are going to save the world - you'll be destined for disappointment or a nervous breakdown (both of which happen in both fields). My goal was/is to use my skills to do my part to improve the lives of others to the best of my ability. We started with 21 volunteers and ended with 11 (one person decided to leave as soon as they landed). It's not for everybody. There is some importance to the program you choose/are assigned. Most of the people from our group who left were Small Business or Nursing volunteers who had difficulty adjusting to the change in responsibility. They were no longer handling multi-million dollar accounts or saving lives in the ICU. Frankly, it was boring for a lot of them. This is not a judgement, I had friends in these program, but look into what you'll be doing and see if you're ready for that. Try to reach current volunteers in that program. I don't know enough detail to go on and on about their decisions, but the bottom line is that you can't expect to be working at the same level as you would be in the States.

As far as background education = achievement, I know that you do not need specialized skills to accomplish your goals. One girl in our group was a Spanish major who completed a concrete bridge over a river that flooded her site annually. Another guy in our group with a Philosophy degree had a road built and brought electricity into his site. A Sociology major in our group made more composting latrines than the rest of our group combined. The thing to keep in mind is that PC does not give you money. You and/or your host country counterpart have to find it. My project was funded by a Canadian project based on debt forgiveness for environmental projects. My counterpart wrote our grant, but I did the budgeting/cost analysis for it.

It is difficult to get things done - for everybody, in all countries - and people do bitch about it. But look at a majority of the threads on this site bitching about pre-med/med school. Also, the hottest thread this morning has been "Drink of choice?" How are these things different than PC? People need to blow off steam and it happens in med school too. If anything, working on my project made me realize how many similarities there are in terms of human nature, working in groups, and politics. "Culture" is just how it is all nuanced. The people who generally achieve in these environments are those people with good attitudes who work smart and keep at it. There are exceptions of people with these qualities who do not achieve their goals because of circumstances out of their control, but they are exceptions.

Think about how many people get into med school and/or medicine in general and hate it. They have to stay long enough to pay off their debts. In PC you can get on a plane three days after you decide to leave (after an exit medical exam) with no strings attached. Given, most people know that it is a two year committment, there is no written contract that says you have to stay.

I think that the 20%-30% ET (early termination - drop out) rate is about the average, so you are bound to hear negative stories. But have a multitude of negative stories (lawsuits, insurance rates, 15 minute visits) stopped you from applying to medical school?

BDS

Feel free to PM me.
 

Sarikate

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I agree with Wisteria wholeheartedly. I spent several months in East Africa, not as a PCV, but as a student. I knew a lot of volunteers over there, however. And one of my best friends is a recently returned volunteer from Benin.

I relate traveling to Africa for humanitarian purposes much like going down the path to become a physician. You go into it eager to learn, eager to help, just absolutely crazy about the idea in itself. You get there, go through the training, which is difficult - learning to live in an entirely foreign world. Eating giraffe meat? Check. Getting malaria and hallucinating in the middle of a muddy road that is a day's walk from a clinic? Check. You watch people die of AIDS or malaria when you're there to do infectious disease research; you get mugged walking down the street during the Christmas season; you meet the most wonderful people in the world who have the potential to make long-term changes in their country but can't afford a college education, and they beg you to fund one for them. There are some very trying times, and they begin to wear on you.

I tend to believe that Peace Corps volunteers can have huge impacts on others' lives, but the most impact is on them. They change the most out of anyone. It is a chance for people to go completely out of their comfort zones and push themselves to live in an alien world, to adjust to something new and sometimes scary, and they learn a lot about themselves and about how the rest of the world lives. That being said, there is the frustration that lies in knowing that some of what you have done will continue when you leave, but likely not very much of it, which you can't control.

That doesn't mean Peace Corps isn't worth it. I think the Peace Corps experience is invaluable, but not because other people need us - it's because we need them.
 

biendesalud

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Sarikate said:
That being said, there is the frustration that lies in knowing that some of what you have done will continue when you leave, but likely not very much of it, which you can't control.

That doesn't mean Peace Corps isn't worth it. I think the Peace Corps experience is invaluable, but not because other people need us - it's because we need them.
Another good point, but it does go both ways.

The goal is sustainable development, which is immesely difficult, anywhere. How many diabetes/heart disease patients have long term success when their doctor tells them to change there diet, excercise, and live healthier lives - not the majority. Same with AIDS education - there is an increasing push to educate because people have become complacent. Education makes an impact, but how much? How much are you willing to put out for a small return, and it is that return worth it? For me it is. I love preventive health care, but with the realization that the group I will impact will likely be limited and require constant maintenance. I always tell people that I got a lot more out of my PC experience than my community got out of our project, but that is because it showed me the reality of altruism. I wasn't the great savior of my community, I was their guest. I provided my specialized skills and they provided a new languange and cultural experience. It's mutual, not alms. So, Sarikate is correct in the second part of the statement that we (PCVs) need them (developing countries), but there were no other host country nationals offering specialized skills to my communitiy, so I would argue they needed at least some help. The same as a patient needs help. Doctors need patients too. It does benefit both parties.
 

Sarikate

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Totally agreed, Bien - people have to go into a Peace Corps experience knowing that they can't change the world, but they themselves will change, and other people will benefit from that. A bridge, a latrine, a sewer system - these little additions will impact lives, no doubt! Just as long as people don't have unrealistic expectations, they can expect to make real changes for some.
 

bdt

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I too am a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Zimbabwe 97-99). To the OP, you're getting some great advice from biendesalud. I won't repeat all they've said. I'll just add that like the RPCV's (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) who have posted, It changed my life. It was one of the greatest expereiences of my life and has dramatically shaped who I am and what I hope to do with my life.

If you've got the right attitude and the right motivation it would be an amazing experience. Yes it's difficult and can be lonely at times, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.... In Zim, I watched the sunrise and sunset everyday. I learned to walk slowly and enjoy what's around me. I learned to play soccer in the sand and laughed when 10 year olds consistently schooled my sorry skills. I watched my best friend die of AIDS.

Like biendesalud, I am becoming a phycisian because of my experiences a PCV. There's some good info at www.peacecorps.gov .

If you have any questions, feel free to PM me.

Good Luck with your decision.
 

CoffeeCat

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About the Peace Corps/Med school connection: I recently returned from Peace Corps and I saw a number of volunteers apply (I haven't yet myself). I completely agree with Wisteria that if your gpa and mcat aren't up to par, then Peace Corps is not going to help you much. If your scores are, then Peace Corps can be an amazing addition. I know of two people with good stats (one with amazing stats, one with average/better than average stats) that got interviews at Ivy schools and one person without who did not get an interview anywhere.

The bottom line is not to do Peace Corps for Med School. Peace Corps is an experience that helps you broaden your perspective and see the world differently but it's not for everyone, make sure that you want this experience. Is it worth it? For med school solely, no. For me, yes. I second the other posters that PCVs change more than their communities and that experience/education does not equal productivity.

You can affect your placement and you don't have to accept a placement either. Make sure you keep in good contact with your recruiter and the office and be persistent. I do know that it's harder to go Latin America because it's a popular request and you do pretty much have to have a spanish background, I've heard of people waiting for a year because they wanted to go there specifically. Things change with Peace Corps - programs get cancelled/added so just stay on top of things.
 
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mpp

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Another returned Peace Corps volunteer here...actually I served in Zimbabwe at the same time that bdt did (congratulations on the OHSU acceptance by the way...I'll miss you in Rochester).

It is true that many volunteers probably get very little 'accomplished' while in one of these countries but it is a whole lot more than getting some project completed. I think bdt and I would attest that we also spent some of our time getting drunk in the capital and bitching about the vagaries of life in rural Africa. But I think most volunteers would agree that the experience as a whole is life changing and life shaping; and not just to the volunteer regardless of whether or not you 'got something done'.

As a teacher at a very rural secondary school (a school of 800+ children, taught in only 8 mud brick classrooms, with no electricity, no running water, miles from the nearest telephone), I know that the students I taught had a vastly different experience than the many thousands of students in Zimbabwe that didn't get the chance to have a Peace Corps volunteer as a teacher, especially when their teacher was a crazy murungu with a big beard. In my feeble attempts at explaining algebra without a textbook and teaching chemistry without a test tube I may not have increased their overall knowledge of the subjects by much more than any Zimbabwean teacher (of which the supply was sorely lacking), I definitely opened a window to a world outside of rural Zimbabwe, something most Zimbabweans could not have done; something for which the students, the other Zimbabwean teachers, and members of the surrounding villages were awfully grateful.

I'm pretty certain that the Peace Corps experience helped me get into medical school but not just because of the line on the resume (although that line can be a real door opener); the experience itself rubs off in much of the choices I make in my life today. That's the important part and what makes it so worthwhile. If you feel you can spend 2+ years away from the luxuries of life in America, immerse youself in a culture that may be so utterly foreign that at times becomes frustrating to the point of madness and at other times blissfully exotic, give it a shot as you surely will not be disappointed.
 

CoffeeCat

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mpp said:
Another returned Peace Corps volunteer here...actually I served in Zimbabwe at the same time that bdt did (congratulations on the OHSU acceptance by the way...I'll miss you in Rochester).

It is true that many volunteers probably get very little 'accomplished' while in one of these countries but it is a whole lot more than getting some project completed. I think bdt and I would attest that we also spent some of our time getting drunk in the capital and bitching about the vagaries of life in rural Africa. But I think most volunteers would agree that the experience as a whole is life changing and life shaping; and not just to the volunteer regardless of whether or not you 'got something done'.

As a teacher at a very rural secondary school (a school of 800+ children, taught in only 8 mud brick classrooms, with no electricity, no running water, miles from the nearest telephone), I know that the students I taught had a vastly different experience than the many thousands of students in Zimbabwe that didn't get the chance to have a Peace Corps volunteer as a teacher, especially when their teacher was a crazy murungu with a big beard. In my feeble attempts at explaining algebra without a textbook and teaching chemistry without a test tube I may not have increased their overall knowledge of the subjects by much more than any Zimbabwean teacher (of which the supply was sorely lacking), I definitely opened a window to a world outside of rural Zimbabwe, something most Zimbabweans could not have done; something for which the students, the other Zimbabwean teachers, and members of the surrounding villages were awfully grateful.

I'm pretty certain that the Peace Corps experience helped me get into medical school but not just because of the line on the resume (although that line can be a real door opener); the experience itself rubs off in much of the choices I make in my life today. That's the important part and what makes it so worthwhile. If you feel you can spend 2+ years away from the luxuries of life in America, immerse youself in a culture that may be so utterly foreign that at times becomes frustrating to the point of madness and at other times blissfully exotic, give it a shot as you surely will not be disappointed.
MPP! We meet again - remember I was the one who was asking you about Peace Corps a few years ago??

I like what you said about the experience rubbing off on the choices you make. :)
 

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I have been accepted to a few med schools but am considering deferment for two years to join the Peace Corps. Has anybody done this?
 

bdt

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ramblinwreckie said:
I have been accepted to a few med schools but am considering deferment for two years to join the Peace Corps. Has anybody done this?
Ramblin,

I haven't heard of anyone doing this, but even if some have, you'd still have to check with the med schools you've been accepted to about their deferment policy to know for sure. One thing to remember is that the Peace Corps application process can take many months and your "ship out date" can vary quite a bit. Also your actual service time is 27 months (2 years and 3 months for training) This means you might actually have to defer for 3 years. Just some info. PC is a great experience.

Good Luck.
 
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PineappleGirl

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Thanks everyone for all these really amazing posts and great advice!!!
These are some of the best posts and discussions I've read on pre-allo.
Thank you! :love:
I'm planning on attending an information session here in Boston on the 21st.