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Pointless Volunteering

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by newyorkblork, Jun 4, 2008.

  1. newyorkblork

    newyorkblork 2+ Year Member

    Jun 3, 2008
    New York
    So I've basically had a bad string of volunteering jobs. I put my name down, go through health clearance, sit down and have a long chat with the coordinator, and voila... all they have for me to do is sitting at a desk for 4 hours at a stretch, or answering the telephone. Even the position I hold now, which put a heavy emphasis on the "patient contact" thing, doesn't have a particular goal in mind other than "assist with patient comfort".

    This basically means I wander around the ward asking whether there's anything I can do for patients. 99% of the time, they ask me to get the nurse (who is in the room), or simply tell me no. Why? Because there's nothing I really can do, other than fetching a pillow or a cup of water or something like that.

    The only problem is that I haven't got a ton of extracurriculars. I've done 3 months of volunteering/surgery observation at an outpatient recovery clinic (around 3 hours a week) and 7 months of research (8 hours a week on school year, 15-20 hours a week on summer).

    Is it worth it for me to continue sinking time into this pointless volunteering position just so I can add it to my transcript, or should I bail and try to find more worthwhile things to do? Is all volunteering like this? It seems so useless.

    Thanks in advance for any input.
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  3. armybound

    armybound future urologist. Physician Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

    Jan 1, 2007
    yeah, it seems like it will be worth it for you to keep doing it since you don't have any other activities. and yes, every volunteer position I've had has been equally useless.

    schools like to say they prefer quality over quantity, but that hasn't been my experience.
  4. spospo

    spospo Going to extremes 7+ Year Member

    Jun 13, 2006
    The 'kane
    i did very little medical volunteering simply because i knew i really wouldn't get to do all that much. instead, i knew i like working with kids, so i found something where i could do that. 2 hours a week of working face to face with kids for 2 years served me better (in my opinion) than answering phones or getting pillows. something medical is always good, but it doesn't have to be volunteering.
  5. GoMechEng


    May 23, 2008
    Baltimore, MD
    I recommend you look for another volunteer position or part-time job (nurse tech, EMS, assistant in a doctor's office, etc.), especially if you have at least one year before you begin applying. Some jobs require a one year minimum time commitment for training. If you have the time, an extracurricular would be good too. One EC (including church) is fine if you become actively involved and gain a leadership position. Some experience is always better than nothing and admissions committees like it when you make the extra effort to gain exposure to the medical profession. In my experience, I seemed to need more than the "normal" amount of volunteering because I was mechanical engineering. ME + pre-med made perfect sense to me, but most people didn't get it (and still don't). Your experiences will be fodder during interviews and it's good to have more to talk about. You can describe why your volunteering has been pointless, what you've learned (good and bad), and what you've done to make your time more fulfilling. Also, keep a resume of your activities and responsibilities, awards, and accomplishments to help organize your experiences in preparation for mock interviews and applications.

    Good luck!
  6. pianola

    pianola MS2 7+ Year Member

    May 23, 2008
    Yeah, some places just don't seem to have anything useful for volunteers to do. I guess I just offer to help people a WHOLE lot until they let me. I also ask questions about patient data.

    Possibly not the best approach...but it's better than nothing.
  7. MilkmanAl

    MilkmanAl Al the Ass Mod Physician 7+ Year Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    Kansas City, MO
    hSDN Alumni
    Welcome to applying to med school, land of doing useless bullcrap just to get your application looked at! I won't say all volunteering is worthless, but most of it certainly is. How does pushing patients around a hospital help me become a doctor? Changing beds in an emergency room? Answering phones? It's just another hoop you have to jump through.

    If you really want to learn something, you'll have to get a clinically-related job where you're actually qualified to do things. I know I spout this a lot and am definitely completely biased, but being a pharmacy tech is really a good way to go. You'll deal a lot more with the "real" aspects of medicine there than you would if you were, say, an ER tech. That is, you wrangle insurance companies, pissed off patients, and angry nurses constantly. You'll also have to learn which medicines do what in a hurry.

    Any pharmacist would be thrilled to have an enthusiastic pre-med on the staff. You'll definitely stand out from the swarm of high shcool kids just looking to get a job as someone who'll take the position seriously. That was the case for me, anyway.
  8. LikeClockWork

    LikeClockWork Guest

    Jul 23, 2007
    Yeah, most volunteering I did was pretty superficial, but it can be an opportunity for you to show that you can stick with something even if it's not the most entertaining thing in the world.
  9. HolyGrail

    HolyGrail A magnum opus suscipio 2+ Year Member

    Jun 1, 2008
    At the Right Hand
    I volunteer in two different places.

    1) I love, helping out with developmentally disabled adults, I get to do all sorts of things.

    2) Boring, I stock linens and fetch water/nurses for patients.

    I mean I sincerely hate stocking linens and being useless as well, but you need to get your 100+ hours in of joviality in medicine AKA boring volunteer work.
  10. Perrotfish

    Perrotfish Has an MD in Horribleness Physician 10+ Year Member

    May 26, 2007
    Volunteer organizations generally need, in order:

    1) Money

    2) skilled workers. Doctors, EMTs, lawyers, engineers, constructions workers, whatever. Just not college students

    3) People who are willing to donate 30 hours a week to coordinate the volunteer activity.

    So, unless you're willing to either get skilled (EMT lisence), or volunteer a LOT (I did that for a little bit), yes it's gonna be useless.
  11. DenaliView

    DenaliView 2+ Year Member

    Jan 13, 2008
    Respite Care may be in option. Usually you must complete some training to begin but it would allow for a lot more patient contact and less supervision.:)
  12. Kaustikos

    Kaustikos Archerize It 7+ Year Member

    Jan 18, 2008
    Always Bespin
    Exactly. Think of it as hazing for medical school. You think being a doctor is all glamor and excitement?
  13. Lacheln

    Lacheln Cavorting in the Hills 10+ Year Member

    Mar 31, 2005
    I don't really support the whole "going through the motions" thing. I would look for something that means something to you - first of all, if it doesn't, chances are that will show to the adcom, and second of all, life is short. Be a whole person, not just a med school drone - it can only help your chances.

    For example, I started volunteering at a local hospital through their pre-med mill program...I dreading going because it was so mind numbing. I quit after a few weeks and decided to find something that meant something to me. Now I am a medical advocate for sexual assault survivors who come to the ER. I had to interview and wait months to start, then went through 55 hours of training, but it was 100% worth it - I'd be doing the work whether I was applying to med school or not. If you need some other creative ideas you can PM me.
  14. newyorkblork

    newyorkblork 2+ Year Member

    Jun 3, 2008
    New York
    Thanks for the responses and suggestions, all. I am a little late in the game, I guess, since I wasn't 100% set on the doctor thing until recently, so I haven't put nearly as much effort into EC's as I could have.

    I am currently looking around for EMT and PharmTech opportunities in Manhattan. Both look like they'll be much more worth my time than sitting in the hospital wishing that I hadn't shown up.

    Again, thanks everyone. And if anyone has more ideas for EC's, they are of course very welcome.
  15. DrJosephKim

    DrJosephKim Advisor Physician SDN Advisor 7+ Year Member

    Mar 29, 2008
    There are many other opportunities, including disease associations and societies. If you have a special interest (like cancer), then find a cancer society and volunteer. This won't be clinical, but it will expose you to many fundamental issues that may help you in the long run.
  16. GoMechEng


    May 23, 2008
    Baltimore, MD
    If you want to be an EMT, you may have to be annoyingly persistent. My experience with the station I volunteered at was fruitless and I gave up after 9 months. The staff was genuinely nice, but it took forever to get nowhere with the State Review Board. I failed my physical because I was anemic. I nearly OD'ed on iron when a nurse tech recommended I self medicate with a supplement (I was following a physician's orders about the "correct" dosage). I also probably failed my stress test because the nurse tech sent me to a hospital for "additional testing." I had to run on an inclined treadmill in JEANS. My paperwork was lost and is probably still lost.

    Look for a student-friendly station and be careful who you ask for information. There is a difference between career and volunteer personnel and their versions of what you can do and need to know. There will also be a lag between the time you complete your physical and background check and enroll in class, but you can use that period to familiarize yourself with the station and equipment. And, it will be helpful to ask about people's experiences in EMS who were patient enough to stick with it.

    I regret missing out on a worthwhile experience because of mounting frustrations. But, your experience may be completely different. The one good thing that came out of it is that I volunteer in shock trauma now and love it. Do some research (Google!) and good luck with initiation. :)

    About ECs, it doesn't necessarily have to be medically related. I was in an equestrian club for a semester because I was exploring pre-vet. Surprisingly, I shared an interest in animals - specifically horses - with nearly every interviewer I had. Maybe horses are more popular than I thought, but it gave the interviewers a chance to talk about themselves (which they nearly greedily grabbed). I agree with mdjkim to nurture any special interests you have.

    Sorry for such a long reply but I hope you find some of it useful.
  17. crazymedgirl

    crazymedgirl 2+ Year Member

    Apr 23, 2008
    hey breeak, was just wondering what exactly being a "medical advocate for sexual assault survivors" actually constitutes? it sounds very interesting and rewarding.
  18. DrMattOglesby

    DrMattOglesby Grand Master Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Aug 15, 2007
    i dont know if its been stated yet...but by going what you sound like, id say drop the volunteering and start shadowing!
    shadowing is a LOT more interesting, especially if you get to see a procedure done.
  19. radxbandit

    radxbandit 2+ Year Member

    May 8, 2008
    Portland, OR
    i would recommend trying to get involved at a volunteer/free clinic if you have any around town. since they are run by volunteers you usually have more opportunities to do meaningful work and thus gain more experience in the clinical setting. people seem to be more friendly there too =) good luck!
  20. hoqhuuep

    hoqhuuep says hello! 5+ Year Member

    Feb 9, 2008
    I agree with this. Try to get a long-term shadowing (one month is plenty), you'll learn so much about the specialty. Especially if you read up on the literature.

    I had no idea what orthopedic surgery was until I shadowed a surgeon for several weeks, and now I can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome, several types of tendonitis, arthritis, read x-rays, and so many other things that hospital volunteering doesn't even begin to cover.
  21. HurricaneKatt

    HurricaneKatt 7+ Year Member

    Mar 29, 2008
    I think it's worth the hours but not the experience, and isn't it more what you learn than how many hours you put in that med schools look at? I would suggest trying to volunteer in Peds - I've heard it's a lot of fun - or the ER if either of those are available at the hospital. I know that at the Hospital here in AK you can volunteer in specific areas like that (Peds, NICU, ER, etc) and everything I've heard from people who did it said it was great. I would do it myself, but I believe I have mono and that would not be good around sick kiddos. :S I think it;s more the experience that counts, but you should try to get involved in some sort of extra curricular program or something. Maybe look for some premed or degree specific clubs on campus? Whatever you do though you should have fun doing it! :)
  22. sglec

    sglec 5+ Year Member

    Oct 12, 2007
  23. FuturePharm21

    FuturePharm21 7+ Year Member

    Nov 29, 2007
    okay so if hospital volunteering is off the list due to no positions available/no medical experience given, then what are some options to still volunteer in different areas, where are some areas one can call/look up online?
  24. paradocs we are

    paradocs we are In love with you 2+ Year Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    The Falls
    Pointless or not, just do it.
  25. RySerr21

    RySerr21 i aint kinda hot Im sauna 7+ Year Member

    Dec 22, 2007
    i feel you on the meaningless volunteering. Personally, I couldn't handle it. I was volunteering at a hospital and was doing absolutely nothing, so I quit. I handled about 50 hours and thought if i ever went back i'd have to admit myself to the psych ward.

    That being said, i did something a little different this summer and it is working out wonderfully. I'm not sure where you live, but if you live in a city with a med school, this may work for you. I live in San Diego, and i'm interested in preventive medicine. I emailed the residency director for the UCSD preventive medicine residency and asked her if there were any volunteer opportunities. I expressed clearly that i didn't want to just be filing papers or answering phones, i wanted to do something meaningful. She appreciated my interest and set me up with a project she was working on and it is perfect! I actually have responsibilities, I am interacting with pateints at two different hospitals. I will soon be on my own, with no supervision and i am gettin great clinical experience. It is a pretty unique experience thats not really possible when going through a set volunteer program. If you can, I'd email people at the local med schools/residency programs and ask them if there are any projects you can assit with, it may turn out well for you too. Keep in mind that a preventive medicine residency is gonig to be way different than a orthopedic surgery residency as far as things you are allowed to do. Even if you've never thought about preventive medicine, it seems like its a great place to look for work you can do as a pre med that will get you involved and not just ansewring phones.

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