Medical Should I include volunteering abroad on AMCAS?

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Oct 14, 2011
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Hi there. I have been struggling with this decision for a while now. In college, I participated in a one-month volunteering experience in Ecuador where I co-taught a physical education and nutrition class to elementary students at a low-income school in Quito. I worked alongside the permanent instructor at the school. We made daily lesson plans for creative ways to engage students in physical activity with limited resources.

I have heard MANY mixed opinions on whether or not including such an activity on AMCAS is appropriate.

To head off some questions:
  • there was NO medical or clinical experience involved
  • my position had oversight (working alongside a teacher, not independently)
  • I stayed in a homestay with an Ecuadorian family, taking the bus to work every day
  • I majored in anthropology and global health at my university
  • At my university, I was also part of an after-school volunteer program where I tutored local elementary school kids for one hour then did physical activity outside for one hour each week (the point I'm making is in Ecuador, I did things I had some experience in)
  • I have other non-clincial and clinical volunteering experiences in the U.S. (this was not at the exclusion of other experiences or contributing to my local community)

My question is whether or not you think this activity is appropriate to include on my application? I am hesitant because I have heard some schools look very unfavorably on applicants who have volunteered abroad. However, given my anthropology and global health background, I am fully aware of the negatives of volunteerism and tried to ensure that my program did not cause any of the negative externalities associated with voluntourism.

This experience was rooted in my interest in anthropology and global health, but I am worried that it will automatically exclude me from admission to schools. Refraining from including it on my application would not be the end of the world, but I do think it was a valuable experience. However, I do not want to risk automatic skepticism on ADCOMs' minds.

What do you think? Include it? Exclude it? Too much of a risk?
Not every adcom is the same. You should ask around to the schools on your wish list. But most while expressing interest will prefer more domestic clinical experience be present.

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Every admissions committee is going to be different. That being said, this sounds like a cool opportunity where you actually did something that most people have no experience with. Teaching a physical education and nutrition class is pretty cool and isn't the typical "I shadowed a doctor in X. country but didn't do much else" that we typically criticize. Combined with an interest in global health, I think this would make me want to know more about your application in the best possible way.

Personally, I included an experience reading books on tape for deaf people in my application, and that was the number one thing I was asked about during my interviews. I think your experience has a similar feel to it based on the way you describe it. However, my main advice is that you focus on what you did and not how you lived. I would love to hear about your experience teaching these classes, but hearing about your homestay experience is more an extra piece of flavor that I'd ask about in an interview. Everyone has to get to work somehow, so the fact that you took the bus is neither heroic nor relevant to the experience itself.

To sum this all up in one sentence, I would include the experience, and I would focus on your role in the school and how it makes you want to work with socioeconomically disadvantaged people in the future.
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