I see threads popping up all the time asking if you should go on a mission trip or not. With summer around the corner, well kinda, this is a good time to address this commonly ill-perceived pre-med topic. Typically, most pre-meds will go on a two-week long trip or something short-term like that. What I'm writing about does not apply to applicants who are connected to a population in some sort of way and have been volunteering for months or years. Also, I'm not trying to insult anyone who did a short trip, and found that it was a life-changing experience. What I'm trying to do here is not only show you that volunteering abroad for a short period of time will not help you with medical school admissions, but it can also be bad for a variety of reasons. Reason #1: LizzyM In a thread pertaining to the topic, LizzyM said the following: Yup, that's it in a nutshell. This is coming from a well-respected ADCOM. But of course you might be wondering why ADCOMs are so unimpressed in the first place... Reason #2: Everyone Does It When I was a one-semester pre-med back in undergrad, I thought that I would go on a volunteer trip abroad, and not only would that complete my EC checklist besides shadowing, but that it would be my Golden Ticket into medical school! I'm glad I quit the pre-med track then and reapplied as a non-trad. I definitely learned that short volunteer trips abroad are definitely not a Golden Ticket into medical school. Why? Well, the idea wasn't too unique in the first place. It was one of the first things that popped into my head. I'm sure it's the same for a lot of pre-meds. And what does that ultimately mean? It means that the ADCOMs see countless people do it. Therefore, you are paying thousands of dollars to do something that won't set you apart at all. In fact... It might show you in a bad way... Reason #3: And You Care About These People Because? So you decide to go on a two-week trip abroad. Why did you choose this place? Why did you specifically choose these people? What kinds of things did you do after your trip to show your commitment to helping these people? If you are caught off guard, then it's a bad sign. There are definitely people out there, like Luol Deng and Dikembe Mutombo who contribute so much to their own countries. Since Luol Deng plays for the Chicago Bulls, I know about certain things that he does locally. He runs a basketball camp close to my hometown where all of the proceeds go to help the Sudanese people. He is originally from Sudan, and has a connection to them. So what's your connection? What's your passion? Are you somehow deeply connected or inspired by something, or was this the most convenient, cheapest, or most exotic mission trip you could find? Reason #4: So How About Donating the Money Instead? Chances are that you are an unskilled pre-med. What kind of valuable things do you bring to the table? If you are genuinely concerned about helping this local population, then it's close to nothing. But what about this? Say you donated the $5,000 you would have spent to the trip instead, which can help trained health professionals, or better yet, the locals that can have a greater direct impact on their population. As they say, give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to wish, and he eats for a lifetime (or something like that). Sounds great, right?! Well, writing out a check to directly help this local population isn't going to do much for your medical school application. If it did, I would have written about every time I gave a Salvation Army bell ringer a few bucks during the holidays! This is the most obvious sign that you are probably not too concerned about the population you're trying to help. If you genuinely want to help something, then wouldn't you do the very best that you can? In this case, giving money to help trained physicians or the locals to dramatically improve their infrastructure would be the best course of action, right? Well, not for you though. So if you can't put it on your application, then you won't do it. It shows how much you genuinely care (I am not trying to insult anyone either by the way). Reason #5: And there's Kony... So do you remember this guy? Hopefully you do, because he is the target of the Invisible Children group, and was the star of the viral video, Kony 2012. As you know, it had millions of hits! It was all over Facebook. People posted it all over the place! You didn't want to be caught refusing to posting and sharing the video. You would be labeled as a horrible person that doesn't care at all about the children soldiers of Uganda. There's no denying that Kony has committed horrible atrocities that are worthy of attention. So, where does this tie in with medical school admissions? Last time I checked, hunting down Kony wasn't an unwritten requirement to getting into medical school (*HINT* Unique EC Opportunity *HINT*). But the course of the Kony 2012 campaign directly parallels the "altruistic pursuits" of pre-meds. As you know, despite people posting the videos all across Facebook, most virtually forgot about him the next day. Few people went to the rallies/events held by Invisible Children. It was pretty much posting something that you "deeply care about" on your Facebook wall, and then forget about it the next day. This reminds me of the pre-meds I labeled as "ZERO to Mother Teresa" applicants. People who never cared about certain organizations that all of a sudden have a laundry-list full of activities. But this thread isn't about them, it's about the pre-meds that seek the overseas volunteer opportunities. So you suddenly care about the children Quepos, Costa Rica or the villagers in Mahdere, Ethiopia (I picked these places randomly off a map)? Why so? Alright, so there are people who probably struggle and can use help. They are all over the world. You can pick just about any place in the world and even in your own backyard (imagine that, helping people domestically), and find people who are struggling and in need of help. But unless you develop some GENUINE passion and want to help a group (don't kid yourself if you don't), then you won't be doing much by going on a short-term trip. It sounds an awful lot like Kony 2012. There was a whole lot of online activism, where people thought they were making a difference by sharing the video on Facebook. But in the end, they shared something and stopped caring the next day. It's similar with trips. You take the trip, stop caring the day after you return, and check the box on your application. Sure you might provide a little help, but the people that help most are either locals themselves or trained professionals. These locals or trained professionals won't help you for your medical school application though. So either you care or you don't, and Kony 2012 is the perfect example of this. Reason #6: If I Gave you the Chance to Clean a Dirt Road... What if I told you that I can give you a wonderful altruistic opportunity? I can hook you up with an opportunity to clean garbage from a ditch along a desolate dirt road conveniently located here in the United States? This is something where you would be helping a community here in our very own country. How many of you would turn down the opportunity to do this? In fact, if you had an opportunity to spend two weeks volunteering here in the US or two weeks volunteering abroad, where would you go? Ah yes, I think most people would choose the latter. In fact, I think most people would turn down my generous opportunity to clean the desolate dirt road. LizzyM and others have mentioned in such threads that there are so many people in our own country that are in dire need of help. I think there are more people in need compared to the number of volunteers available. So why are pre-meds going off to random places thousands of miles away to help random people that they never heard of until they read the voluntourism, err... I mean volunteering abroad information. Something doesn't smell right... Oh yes, it's probably people who are looking more to help themselves. This brings me to my next point... Reason #7: Just Enjoy Yourself I'm getting the feeling that people are trying to turn their abroad volunteering adventure into a vacation/exotic trip. Unlike hospital volunteering, which technically kills two birds with one stone (clinical experience plus volunteering), volunteering abroad doesn't really kill two birds with one stone. It's more like volunteering that can be used against you. I'm not sure how much clinical experience there is, though this can differ. But seriously, if you honestly don't care about helping a certain group of people in a random country, then your time and money can be spent in a better way if you want to enjoy something fun and exotic. No, it's not something unrealistic like donating thousands of dollars to some random charity halfway across the world. It's more in the lines of spending the money on a vacation to an exotic destination that you actually want to go to, so you can relax and do the things you want to enjoy. If you don't care about doing the volunteer work, then why do it? Just take a vacation for crying out loud! For example, I was looking at vacation packages with my girlfriend. I found some packages to the Maldives for around $2,300. This is around the cost of some trips or even cheaper. And honestly, I'd rather go to the Maldives than a lot of these other places. And at least here you can seriously do what you enjoy. I realize the above paragraph probably makes me sound like a horrible person, but this is who we are in reality as most human beings. We don't spend 100% of our free time volunteering in some form or another. It would be silly if we thought we did. Reason #8: Clinical Experience Double-Edged Sword Be careful what you do on mission trips. It can come back to bite you. Just look at certain past threads. Here's what I don't quite understand... If you are a hospital/clinic volunteer here in the United States, you might say that your experience was "superior" to someone elses' based on what you were able to do. For instance, someone who volunteered in an ED who delivered water or blankets to a patient might have an "SDN inferior" experience compared to someone who volunteered in a free clinic that maybe checked vitals, blood glucose, or even drew blood. This is why on SDN, you have pre-meds who are saying that you should volunteer at a free clinic versus an ED. There is a mentality that the more you do, the better (despite getting acclimated to the clinical environment, and not skills, is the important thing). This is why you see pre-meds picking up clinical work. Once again, the same mentality kicks in, the more the better. So how does this translate to mission trips? You have someone who goes on a mission trip, they maybe draw blood or do something like that under doctor supervision. They get all excited because they are abiding by the "more is better" principle. They are so excited by now thinking they had an awesome EC, and by the time they share it, all hell breaks lose. They are considered horrible immoral people because they are taking advantage of people overseas to do things that are beyond the scope of what they are allowed to do. It ends up biting them in the ass when it comes to medical school admissions. And no, I'm not talking about performing surgery or doing other tasks that require medical training. On the contrary, you have a volunteer in a free clinic here in the United States, they maybe draw blood or do something like that under doctor supervision. They get all excited because they are abiding by the "more is better" principle. They are so excited by now thinking they had an awesome EC, and by the time they share it, people on SDN agree that it was a good worthwhile experience. I italicized the two sections that are identical. So here's the odd double standard. If you're performing certain tasks that are usually done by trained techs at a local free clinic, people consider it a good clinical experience. If you do the same thing abroad, people look at you as an unethical person. Once again, I'm not talking about doing serious things. But people regularly tell us about their free clinic experiences and the things they do. There is no way in hell that I would have been allowed to even shake a patient's hand in the hospital I volunteered at. It makes it seem like a pre-med that goes on a mission trip wakes up one day and says, "Gee, I feel like doing a bunch of things that are well beyond my scope of practice as a pre-med because I want to hurt and take advantage of poor people overseas because some form of care is better than none." No, I don't think anyone wakes up thinking that. I think people go in with good intentions. But somehow this really fires up almost everyone. And while I agree with them with more serious things, like helping with surgery, suturing, etc, I don't think that it's wrong to do the same things someone might proudly do at a free clinic. So be careful if you do a mission trip and get to do some things that you would not do in a typical hospital ED volunteer position, but might realistically do at a free clinic. I think it's very hypocritical if this does indeed happen in the way I described it. I realize the ridiculous pressure that pre-meds have to do more "things" during their clinical experiences, but it can bite you in the ass real hard because of the stigma attached to it for volunteering abroad. And finally in conclusion, these are my thoughts. I think people should generally and hopefully agree. Everyone's experiences can vary. Some people can definitely have a life-changing two-week experience, or have talked extensively about a two-week experience at an interview that eventually led to exception. But generally speaking, they are frowned upon. So when you're setting up your summer plans, please remember these things, especially if you think a two-week mission trip is going to score you massive brownie points. Good luck!