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Volunteering Abroad, Joseph Kony, and Why You Shouldn't Do It

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by Planes2Doc, Mar 27, 2013.

  1. Planes2Doc

    Planes2Doc Residency is ruff!
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    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...

    [​IMG]

    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! :luck:
     
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    #1 Planes2Doc, Mar 27, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2014
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  2. jorgediaz

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    GREAT post. I was on the verge of going on one of these trips, but backed out due to costs. Couldn't be happier. IMO ADCOMS care much more about what you do on a local level and your impact on the local community. After all, each school has a commitment to serve the people around them.
     
  3. chillaxbro

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    I had an interviewer tell me he sees lots of people going to Peru or whatever for 2 weeks.
    He doesn't give a ****
     
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  4. MaenadsDance

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    This post should be a sticky. I'm going to save the link to repost next time this conversation comes up.
     
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  5. 487806

    487806 Life of the Party!
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    I'll link this thread to my signature.
     
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  6. lobo.solo

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    Hahaha. Did s/he said that ? That's hilarious.
     
  7. OP
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    Planes2Doc

    Planes2Doc Residency is ruff!
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    Thanks! So far it looks like my physio procrastination was worth it. :)
     
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  8. KGflyboy

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    Although you make some interesting points, i wouldn't go as far to say that doing a mission trip is a negative. What adcom would look more favorably on someone who did nothing for 2 weeks than someone who volunteered in another country? Would some adcoms rather you volunteered in your own community? Sure... But you made a big leap in logic in saying volunteering in another country is a negative.

    Second, my admissions office told me having a mission trip experience is favorable. In addition to that, every interviewer asked me about the trip and seemed to consider it an experience worth noting.

    That being said, I was not one of the pre-meds that did the trip and stopped volunteering. On the contrary, the trip motivated me to become more involved at home with the healthcare community and various other organizations. My mission trip might not have impressed interviewers as much if I didn't have a variety of other local experiences to complement my application.

    My advice for pre-meds is to go on a mission trip if you are genuinely interested, but don't go if your only reason for doing it is because you need to pad your application with volunteer hours. Everyone else can see through that. However, I can't imagine an adcom penalizing you in any way for going on a trip, even if the think it had little or no value on your application.
     
  9. OP
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    Planes2Doc

    Planes2Doc Residency is ruff!
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    If someone is really insincere, that's how I see them being penalized. Pre-meds know exactly what ADCOMs want to hear. It's not rocket science. But if someone volunteers for 20 hours at a homeless shelter, and then tells the interviewer how much they care about helping the underserved (one of the things ADCOMs want to hear), then I think an ADCOM would actually have a pretty negative reaction. In this case, a pre-med would be so full of **** that you would just get angry. :annoyed:

    The same goes for mission trips. If you don't use it like a Golden Ticket, and just say that it was something you wanted to check out and thought it was cool, then it would be neutral. The ADCOMs and student interviewers have confirmed this in past threads. On the other hand, if you go during your sophomore year to Costa Rica for 2 weeks, never do anything related to it again, and then tell the interviewers how passionate you are about the Costa Rican people you helped and how it changed your life, then interviewers will see right through it. I think when you're insincerity is found out, that's a complete blow to your character. Even though a majority of pre-meds are playing a facade, it's still not wise to let down your disguise. If you do, your character has been shot, even though most people are just as full of ****.

    In this case, if you have the option of doing a mission trip and seriously couldn't care less about it, then either do it and don't make a big deal out of it unless you'll pursue further related things after, or save your money and spend it on better things. Because either way, it'll probably be neutral or negative in most cases. It might be somewhat positive, but as LizzyM mentioned, a standard pre-med two week trip will do absolutely NOTHING to set you apart. So if that's what a pre-med is going for, they should save their time and money.
     
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  10. Nanoo

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    I was about to make a new thread asking a few question pertaining to this topic but I think I might save some space if I ask it here.

    I am currently spending a gap year abroad in my family's country of origin. I've been here for over 6 months and plan to stay at least another year. My primary goals while here are to reconnect with my heritage, learn about the people and life in my family's home country, and simply to enjoy the adventure inherent in living abroad. In addition to teaching English and volunteering in orphanages, I also volunteer/intern in a hospital.

    Reasons #1-7 for 'Why You Shouldn't Do It' aren't a big concern for me. However, Reason #8: 'Clinical Experience Double-Edged Sword' is definitely relevant to me as I'm not quite sure where the line is drawn for unethical things that a premed shouldn't do abroad (or at home). I've shadowed surgeons in the US but never for prolonged periods of time in which the surgeons could become comfortable enough with me to allow me to do anything besides watch. So my question is, are premeds ever allowed to do anything besides watch during a surgery even after 6 months of scrubbing in with the same surgeon?

    In the operating rooms abroad, I haven't done any suturing or anything beyond that but I have done some more 'hands on' things while scrubbed in that I'm not sure if I should mention in my personal statement or at all anywhere in my application for fear of it being frowned upon.

    Things that I have been allowed to do include:
    -holding/lifting/supporting limbs while surgeons performed skin graphs in hard in reach places/ other situations like that
    -holding a collection containing to collect fragments of bone as the surgeon deposited them into the container
    -cutting suture material after the scrub nurse had knotted the tie
    -adjusting surgical lamps
    -handing surgeons/scrub nurses various surgical instruments


    Some things that nurses/doctors have offered to let me do:
    -starting an IV
    -holding retractors
    -holding an aspirator/doing suctioning

    I would appreciate input on what things I have done and what things I have been offered to do that might be seen as acceptable to mention in my application and what things I should definitely avoid doing again or at all in the future that are hands down dangerous and unethical.
     
  11. Xenops

    Xenops I'm also a girl
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    Very good points, and certainly some need to better known. :)

    I myself have an interesting situation. I think it's more acceptable to med schools if you volunteer in a third-world country and want to return there for full-time service once you get your training. But what if you want to practice in another advanced country? I did a missions trip to Japan, loved it, and want to become a doctor and practice there. But I'm afraid to mention this because no American med school wants to train me so I can leave. So probably I will say that I went to Japan and plan to serve Asian populations in the U.S.

    Does my thinking sound like the norm?
     
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  12. OP
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    Planes2Doc

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    This sounds a little too involved for comfort... I'm not trying to be rude or anything, but answering this feels uncomfortable. :eek: If that's the case with a medical student, then imagine how ADCOMs must feel. There are things that are fine, and things that will clearly be viewed as unethical, even if you were watched closely by a doctor.

    Handing the surgeons and nurses various surgical instruments is fine. Holding the collection and possibly the lights is probably fine too. Anything that involves actively touching the patient is likely a big no no.

    Remember that clinical experience means that you understand the clinical environment and what doctors do. Clinical experiences does not mean that you learn specific procedures.

    Once again, I'm sorry if I sounded rude in my response. A few of the things here will definitely raise a red flag with ADCOMs. :(

    EDIT: Oddly, after re-reading this, I realized that I too am a victim of this stigma. The weird thing is that I instantly perceive these things as unethical because they were done in a different country. Therefore it's perceived as taking advantage of the poor. I can guarantee that if this took place in a hospital or clinic in the United States, everyone on SDN would be going absolutely nuts congratulating you on a "killer EC" and saying that they too hope to have such an experience. I hate being a hypocrite, but it's the way I'm forced to feel. I think anyone else would agree with me.

    What I bolded sounds like a great idea. There was a thread on here recently which touched on the subject of wanting to practice/volunteer in a third world country. There were mixed opinions on this.

    As for wanting to practice in an industrialized country, I would definitely be against mentioning this. Medical schools are investing a boatload of money into you, expecting that you will practice in the United States. If you mentioned that, I can see them saying that you should just go to medical school in Japan. I see no problems with saying that you'd love to do a rotation in Japan. That might be a good talking point during interviews.

    But definitely go with planning to serve Asian populations in the US. :thumbup:
     
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    #12 Planes2Doc, Mar 27, 2013
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2013
  13. Nanoo

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    No need to apologize, you didn't offend me at all- I was looking for an honest opinion about how people felt about what I have done/am thinking about doing and you delivered just that :] If it makes people uncomfortable than I won't touch on it in my application- that being said though- would it be wise to come clean about exactly what I did if questioned at an interview? Or is it best to pretend things never happened?

    It's really helpful that you pointed out that a line can be drawn with actively touching the patient. It makes things more clear for me.

    Lastly, you mentioned that if this occurred in the US, it would be a superb EC. Do you believe that there are doctors in the US that allow this level of involvement for premeds? I'm still trying to gauge the maximum level of involvement premeds can achieve in an OR (or if they do ANYTHING beyond watching).

    Thanks again for your response! It was very insightful. And really I did not find you rude at all. I really do just want to know what people think as long as they don't condemn me for going abroad in the first place or something.
     
  14. EC156

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    I'm sure many of the pre-meds who do that have served and do serve their local communities. For some, volunteering abroad is a great way to simply travel more than anything else. I would much rather spend a couple of weeks living with a host family, learn their language, eat the food they eat, live their lifestyle, etc. than go on a "canned vacation" abroad. You're not traveling if its a canned vacation, which is a huge misconception among some people. Sure, there are many other ways to travel aside from volunteering (couch-surfing, wwoofing, etc) but volunteering certainly is one way of doing so.
     
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  15. lobo.solo

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    It is very unlikely that you would ever do anything like this while shadowing a surgeon or as a volunteer at a US hospital. Why? because there are laws that protect patients. Why would the US hospitals let a guy out the street become so involved in the care of people? they simply wouldn't allow it. Now, the question is why do people feel that they can do this sort of things in underdeveloped countries? Maybe, because poor people in those countries don't have many alternatives or because the government doesn't have strict regulations on this sort of business. Whatever it is IMO untrained people that venture to do things that aren't qualified to do are taking advantage of the situation and the power dynamics that exist in those situations.

    I ask you this. Would you let a premed from the UK be that involved in the care of your love ones, knowing that this premed is not trained or qualified to do so?
     
  16. pre med 2014

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    Good thread but volunteering for two weeks is not the same as laying on your arse all day at an all inclusive resort in the Dominican.

    You have to do work when you are there and I doubt you could work up as good of a tan serving the needy in Peru than you could lounging all day on the beach. So I don't agree with you about it being negative because its just an excuse to visit an exotic location, def. a sacrifice more than it is exploring exotic locations for yourself.
     
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    Planes2Doc

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    Exactly this. There are serious consequences that can happen to doctors if they let untrained people provide care to the patients. Given the litigious society we have in this country, the chances of having such opportunities in the US is close to nothing.

    From a hypothetical standpoint, if a pre-med had the opportunity to do such things in a US healthcare facility, I doubt that it would be frowned upon. As for doing it internationally, as lobo12 mentioned, it is quickly assumed that the pre-med had bad intentions in mind, which includes taking advantage of the fact that people are poor. Honestly, given the drive that pre-meds have to "do more," it's kind of unfair. But like I mentioned earlier, you instantly jump to that conclusion.

    Interestingly, a lot of people on SDN view free clinics as the holy grail of volunteering. Is it because they genuinely want to help the poor, or is it because you assume that you can "do more stuff." I think the latter is mentioned, and no one thinks twice about it. I guess some people wouldn't consider this taking advantage of the poor, right? :shrug:

    It's all about assumptions my friend. Without having much insight into specific programs, people are already under the assumption that a short two-week program is going to be an exotic vacation, whether it's spending an hour handing out pills to kids, or spending hours doing actual labor. The same assumptions are made on SDN regularly about other volunteer opportunities. People say that hospital EDs suck, while free clinics are a magical holy grail. You can obviously have the opposites, but people will still go by their assumptions.

    This can ultimately hurt or fail to help applicants who did short volunteer trips because ADCOMs are probably not oblivious to the fact that pre-meds tend to embellish things. It's just like volunteering in the ED. Volunteering in any shape or form is like Vegas. What happens during volunteering stays in volunteering. The things you did or embellish are only bounded by your imagination, and how you can get ADCOMs to believe it. Sadly that's true for a lot of people. :( I don't think volunteering overseas is any exception. I'm sure a pre-med who had a two-week "exotic vacation" can let their imagination run wild in their PS and interviews and have an equivalent experience to someone who actually worked their ass off on a two-week trip.
     
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  18. galaxyx

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    I don't think this will look as bad as the short term medical mission trips where untrained pre-meds give injections, make diagnosis, suture wounds etc.

    You're literally just assisting the physician under direct supervision of the physician at all times with absolutely no autonomy and no decision making. Plus, you should be able to indicate that your responsibilities were gradual and learned over time. It's not like you showed up one day and started "playing doctor" and suturing the next.
    Cutting the ends of sutures or assisting by holding a limb is pretty benign. Some of the reasons that volunteers aren't permitted to do things in the States is liability and billing, not from any actual danger to the patient.
    I would be hesitant about including anything "procedural" though such as IVs, or suctioning.
     
  19. goofball

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    I think volunteering abroad works best when you can prove you have some real interest in what you are doing beyond "herping people abroad for teh admissions!!"

    Bad: Vacationing in Goa, pretending to shadow a doctor for a day, then writing about your eye-opening "experiences" with under-served people abroad.

    Good: As a Chinese language minor in college, you go to work in rural China for a month, which both develops your skills in the language AND is "eye-opening," whatever that means.



    At the very least, speak the ****ing language of the place you're going to, it will make your trip look a LOT more genuine. Every friend I know who has done medical work abroad in Latin America speaks fluent, accentless Spanish. Every premed I know who has gone to India is a native speaker of one of the country's languages. If you go without knowing the country's language(s), you go as a tourist, and adcoms will pick up on that. If you invest time into learning the country's language(s), you show that you really care about your work.
     
  20. OP
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    Planes2Doc

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    I would have to disagree with this. Genuinely caring about a certain group/issue is not dependent on things like language. For example, my girlfriend's brother is heavily involved in Invisible Children. He's actually going to Uganda this summer. I'm curious to know this passion got started (no, he's not pre-med). English and Swahili are both the official languages of Uganda. I can safely assume that he doesn't understand Swahili. If English wasn't an official language in Uganda, I doubt this would have made any difference. I doubt this makes any difference for physicians that take part in Doctors without Borders and other such charities.

    You can think of a bunch of ways to make your experience look "more genuine." Sure, language can be one of them, but so can a bunch of other things. If you seriously need to think about why you wanted to do this, then it wasn't genuine.

    But seriously, not everything you do as a pre-med has to be a carefully calculated action that can help your application. I don't think there is anything wrong with going on a two-week mission trip, and being completely humble about it during interviews. Just say that it was something you thought might be cool, and a fun way to spend a break or a couple of weeks. It doesn't have to turn into a massive embellishment that ADCOMs would see right through.

    Sometimes a little bit of honesty can go a long way. In this case, I doubt it will do much to your application at all, and that's fine. As long as you had a good time on the trip and thought the money was well-spent.
     
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  21. BeancheBlanco

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    wow didn't realize there was so much hate for volunteering abroad. OP sounds kind of insecure that he didn't do a foreign volunteer trip. No one is claiming that a foreign volunteer trip is some kind of magnificent experience with a free ticket to medical school if you do it. It's like any other volunteering experience with the added bonus of learning about a new region of the world. I think it's incredibly immature, naive, and judgmental to look at a volunteer abroad trip negatively. Some people do it because they want to volunteer and travel at the same time. Some people do it because they believe certain areas are in more need (whether that is a correct assessment or not). Some people do it because they want to learn about a new region. Some people do it because they think it will look good on their resume. Most often, it's a combination of these different factors. And it's like that for any activity/experience, abroad or at home.

    Reason #1: LizzyM

    Ok so one admissions person lists an activity that is more impressive than volunteering abroad. What's your point? No one is claiming that volunteering abroad is the single most impressive activity you can do and everyone will love you for doing it. I'm pretty sure the point of her post was to show that you don't NEED to do a volunteer trip abroad. Her point wasn't that it is a bad idea to do one.

    Reason #2: Everyone Does It

    Everyone does research and hospital volunteering and doctor shadowing. That's no reason NOT to do it. Also, it's not even true that everyone does it.

    Reason #3: And You Care About These People Because?

    So are you saying that you have to live in the same city as a person to care about them? Why should I have to care more about some struggling people living next to me than some struggling people who live far away from me? Care should not have to be proportional to proximity.

    Reason #4: So How About Donating the Money Instead?

    You could say this about any volunteer activity since they all have an opportunity cost. The point of volunteering is not solely to help others but also about helping yourself grow. I think all of my activities, including non-medical community service experiences have helped shape my outlook on medicine and I expect medical schools to acknowledge that.
     
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  22. OP
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    Planes2Doc

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    I got into medical school just fine with volunteering in the hospital ED and one other non-clinical experience. I'm actually pretty happy that I went to exotic places around the world and did what I enjoyed. Either touring or doing absolutely nothing. That's how I wanted to spend my vacations.

    Maybe not in this thread, but there are definitely people out there who think that certain ECs might be a Golden Ticket. Back when I was a college freshman, I thought going on a mission trip would have gotten me right into medical school. A few years later when I did a post-bacc and lurked on SDN, I realized that this couldn't be further from the truth.

    You're right, it is incredibly immature, naive, and judgemental to look at a volunteer trip abroad negatively. I doubt that most ADCOMs view them negatively, if anything, they view them neutral. However (imagine me emphasizing this word), if a pre-med went on a trip, never did anything related to it again, and suddenly embellished the hell out of their experience to the interviewer, then I think the ADCOM might view the person as a lying sack of ****. Once your credibility is shot by forcing out things that you know ADCOMs want to hear, then yes the experience, just like any other, will be viewed negatively. But ultimately, I'm trying to show that it's not going to be extremely helpful either.

    People do things for a wide variety of reasons. The largest coincidence that happens with typical SDN pre-meds is that the moment they become pre-med, they become pre-Mother Teresa as well. They pick up a laundry-list full of activities to do! Wow, what great people! :love: But seriously, I don't think ADCOMs typically dive into one's intentions for doing something. My guess is most people do things to boost their resume. ADCOMs won't usually cross the line, and neither should the applicant. Once again, if an applicant is humble about the experience, then it's just another EC on this list. If the applicant is pushing forward a whole lot of BS to embellish the activity, then it might not be such a good thing.

    Yes she is one person, and someone at a top school as well. Anyway, while people might have differing thoughts, other SDN members that are either interviewers or involved with the admissions process in some other way who posted in previous threads on the topic have said that it's usually not viewed positively for whatever reasons. The general consensus is that if it's approached correctly, it's going to be mostly neutral on your application.

    Yes everyone does hospital volunteering and a lot of people do research. Many people seem to think that a mission trip is a special thing that's going to score them some serious uniqueness points. I'm pointing out that it isn't going to, because so many people do them. Therefore, it won't be "superior" to something like volunteering at the hospital.

    People who aren't pre-med typically volunteer for a cause because they believe in its mission and care about it the same way. As for medical school admissions, it's an unwritten requirement. Therefore, it's naive to assume that every single pre-med that volunteers actually cares about the cause. Given the fact that only a small portion of the population actually participates in extensive volunteer work, it's safe to say that a majority of pre-meds don't actually care about the organizations they are volunteering for. I know it sounds bad, but if the pre-med would not have done the activity in the first place, then they probably don't care about it. Even if they do care, then they don't care enough to place it as a priority over doing other things.

    So if you're someone that just doesn't care about service, then it's going to cost a lot less money to volunteer in the local ED. Spending thousands on a mission trip is quite a lot for something you don't care about.

    That's good. People can view their experiences in a variety of ways. Some people enjoy them. Some people hate them. The ADCOMs will never know what an applicant actually thinks of their volunteering, since they are not mind readers. People do things for their own personal reasons, and we can leave it at that.

    But people who genuinely believe in the cause and want the best for the cause will donate money since they will view it as being most beneficial. I'm just saying that if the pre-meds cared so much about a certain cause, then they would donate money.
     
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  23. circulus vitios

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    You mean that admissions committees won't be impressed with my ability to spend $2000 of my parent's money on a Guatemalan vacation so I can do 7 hours of actual work over the course of a few weeks?
     
  24. pp77

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    I don't see why volunteering in a foreign country is an inferior experience for pre-meds. Of course foreigners are not "their" people but, since most pre-meds are young, well-educated, upper-middle class types, they are unlikely to encounter "their" people in any clinical setting. Furthermore, the U.S. is a country with significant immigrant populations, so foreigners may be more "their" people than they realize.

    I suspect that medical missions are really stigmatized due to their traditional association with conservative Christian groups.
     
  25. KnuxNole

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    No, but they will be impressed if you manage to take out drug cartels on your own :cool:
     
  26. OP
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    Planes2Doc

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    I don't see why either honestly. I don't think they should be stigmatized. But a lot of people wonder why someone decides to travel halfway across the world when there are so many people here who need help. Also, if you look at the desolate road example I mentioned above, it shows that the people who are so willing to jump on a plane to volunteer in an exotic country would not want to do something in their own country which isn't so much "fun" or glamorous, despite actually helping the community.

    Also, as for medical school admissions itself, people generally try to find any way possible so they can feed interviewers the things they want to hear. Even though we know that so many pre-meds don't care whatsoever about the hospital volunteer experiences, it's at least more realistic to embellish a long commitment like that without negative consequences (this would result in positive things actually), versus a short-term mission trip that already has some sort of negative views floating around among ADCOMs.

    I think the insane embellishment that pre-meds try to do ruins the way ADCOMs perceive mission trips. It's one of those things that ruins it for other people, even if they actually had good intentions. If you're completely humble about it, I doubt it will be an issue.

    Also, I don't think religion is much of an issue in medical school admissions, unless it's extreme. Westboro Baptist Church anyone? I did my non-clinical volunteering through a Jewish organization, and there was no issues with that. I see any non-extreme Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or other religious organization being viewed the same way.
     
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  27. OP
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    Planes2Doc

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    Actually I posted an article a long time ago about some random American guy who went to Libya because he was bored, and fought with the rebels. He talked about how he killed enemy soldiers and what not. I said how this would be a "unique EC," but everyone quickly shot this down saying how horrible and unethical it was.

    So I don't think they will be impressed with taking out drug cartels, but I could be wrong.
     
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  28. pp77

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    This is fair but could just as well be said of any volunteer opportunity. As you pointed out, pre-med volunteer jobs tend to be very menial and (as you said) it's unlikely that any young person would do them just for the sake of doing a good deed. In fact, in all my volunteering I don't think I met a single volunteer my own age who wasn't pre-health.

    This is a good strategic point.

    I'm unsure about this. It's been demonstrated that people who tend to embellish (i.e. narcissists) actually do better in interviews (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/...iews-narcissism-self-promotion_n_1412206.html).

    I think the problem is that extremist Christianity is much more common in the United States than e.g. extremist Judaism, so people are more conscious of it. It probably wouldn't occur to the average American that such a thing as "extremist" Hinduism even exists (though obviously it does).
     
  29. pp77

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    "Helped with drug-prevention program aimed at under-served populations. Assisted local NGOs in community-building activities."
     
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  30. BeancheBlanco

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    You would make an outstanding pre-med.
     
  31. OP
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    Thanks, that was an interesting read. Yeah, I'm sure you will do better in an interview if you possess those skills, but what you embellish must be believable!

    I think that's the problem people might run into here. If you have a few years of experience volunteering in a hospital, you can make up a lot of things, and it'll probably be believable given the long commitment. ADCOMs like commitments.

    If you do a two-week gig overseas and make it out like you saved the world (or at least did more than a Peace Corps member), then I think ADCOMs will doubt the things you're saying, no matter how good of a story teller you are.

    [​IMG]
     
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  32. HSUReddie

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    I don't think experience abroad is necessarily a bad thing... I think it can be eye-opening. However, I do agree with most of what you said regarding volunteering abroad, especially with regards to medical volunteering.

    I got to travel abroad in undergrad for marine biology and tropical ecology classes/research. Our professor incorporated a cultural component into the class as well. It was definitely a life-changing experience for me. I'm doing a grad program in tropical medicine because of it. Now that I'm in grad school though, and have had the opportunity to talk with professors who work overseas fairly regularly, I am even MORE suspicious of short-term abroad volunteer work. My main issue with it is questioning the sustainability of the project, and if it is actually hurting the local people more in the long run. I don't think that's something a lot of pre-med's consider when trying to check off that box in their application.
     
  33. OP
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    I'm glad that you had a life changing experience and genuinely enjoyed what you did overseas! :D

    It's kind of ironic that the point of volunteerism is to help others, but in the end you might end up hurting others and only bring benefit to yourself. This is definitely the case with mission trips in some cases. But wait, there's good news and there's bad news.

    The bad news first. If you consistently provide handouts to the population, they will become reliant on handouts and not become self-sustaining. As I have mentioned before, donating money to help develop the local infrastructure would most likely provide the most benefit, but only people who genuinely believe in the cause will donate, and sadly donating money doesn't quite help one's medical school application. Also, if there are a limited number of spots on a trip, isn't it better to have trained professionals go instead of a pre-med that has minimal, if any, skills of value?

    But here's the good news. Even if you end up ultimately hurting the local population for whatever reasons, it won't affect your medical school application. Yup, and if you didn't genuinely care about the population at the beginning, I doubt you (though people can change as well) will care what happens to the population after. I'm certain that pre-meds understand the drawbacks that mission trips might end up having on a group of people, but would still rather go since they see it as benefiting their application.

    That's why pre-med volunteerism is filled with irony. They supposedly must be altruistic and care about helping others, but somehow end up having a pretty bad reputation. Have you noticed how pre-med hospital volunteers are treated like garbage while the elderly volunteers are treated well? :confused: Obviously poor performance has led to this. Pre-meds will flake if they have other things they would rather do, like study, go to a concert, hang out with friends, or do something else. If they really cared about helping others, they would put that above anything else and always do their best. But in reality, it's a needed check-box to check, and that's it.

    Going back to mission trips, I did have another thought that doesn't quite make sense... :caution:

    Here's some things to think about:
    1. If you don't enjoy cruises, would you spend good money to take one? No.
    2. If you don't enjoy $100 bottles of wine, would you spend $100 to buy one? No.
    3. If you your life doesn't revolve around video games and having the best computer hardware, would you spend $3,000 on a gaming system? No.
    4. If you don't genuinely care about helping a specific group of people in a specific part of the world, would you spend $2,000 to spend time there? Logic would tell you NO.

    Yes, people don't generally go out and spend tons of money on things that aren't important to them. It makes absolutely no sense, unless there is another reason why. I suspect that there is an ulterior motive to doing these expensive mission trips, because logic tells you that people won't just spend thousands of dollars on something they never cared about previously.

    But here's the unfortunate good news. Given that there are so many "ZERO to Mother Teresa" applicants who suddenly go from never having volunteered to becoming the next Mother Teresa overnight, ADCOMs fail to question one's motives. They see long commitments on the AMCAS, and will accept it happily.

    The same goes with mission trips. While they might scrutinize extreme embellishment, especially over a short trip, I doubt they would care if you are humble about it.

    It's kind of frustrating that ADCOMs don't grill applicants over these things because people are clearly commitment considerable time and resources to do these things. I don't think there's any issue with asking what's supposed to be the EASY questions... "So, why did you decide to do this activity? :(
     
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  34. plumhill

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    Great post! I will say that there are some people that have truly benefited from going abroad and have really done a lot to help a particular community...but there are lots of other kids who can simply afford to shell out $2,000 and hop over to Africa to look good. Don't be the latter.
     
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  35. pp77

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    This is totally consistent with my own experience and if there's one recommendation I would give to a pre-med besides "get good grades" it would be "get involved with research and volunteering as early as possible." Really, there's no reason not to start volunteering as soon as you've decided you want to go medical school.
     
  36. goofball

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    I wouldn't say "treated like garbage," but elderly volunteers get much more respect. People think that premed volunteers are volunteering as a means to an end, and that attitude manifests itself in skipped days, reading magazines at work, and quitting at the first sight of a med school acceptance. Elderly volunteers do it for its innate service and meaning, and thus get more respect for it.
     
  37. drdoom12

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    After recently returning from a medical-mission trip abroad, I agree with you to an extent. My reasoning for going was more to experience this country and how these people live as opposed to changing the world, and I don't see how that can be viewed negatively. Furthermore, I had never been out of the country, and this provided me with an easy and relatively cheap opportunity. Now, if I went and based my whole application around this trip then it would be a different story. Fortunately, my week-long mission trip won't even grace my "most important" activities.

    I think that outright discouraging people from doing mission trips is a bit harsh. They provide students with opportunities to visit other countries who may not have that chance otherwise. Furthermore, some people are actually interested in continuing with medical work abroad (Doctors Without Borders, anyone?), and this provides an early view into what that may be like later on. I do agree with you that this should not be an applicant's only clinical experience, but this seems like something that should be considered common sense to me. Why would medical schools only want to see you helping people who aren't American citizens when most areas have people in need locally? Anyway, I digress.

    Ultimately, I feel as though these abroad trips can provide a valuable experience for an applicant, but only if they go into it with the right mindset and take from it an appropriate message. There isn't anything wrong with wanting to experience a different culture and potentially help a few people out in the process as long as you are aware of your capabilities.
     
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  38. MaenadsDance

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    I think the problem is that mission trips - and other voluntourism activities popular among pre-meds - are not benign for the local populations presumably being aided. There's a lot of literature discussing the way that international NGOs can distort local economies, foster dependence, hamper grass-roots organizing efforts, interfere with local govt, etc etc etc. There are certainly NGOs doing fine work, and some that do difficult, dangerous, heroic work no-one else will touch (Medecins Sans Frontieres is the obvious example), but many NGOs do more harm than good. Paul Farmer, of the famous Partners in Health, has written extensively on this topic - his book on Haiti after the earthquake, and the effects of the international community suddenly pouring attention and money into the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and then disappearing - is a fabulous read, whatever you may think of Farmer himself.
     
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  39. OP
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    Planes2Doc

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    This is an excellent point MaenadsDance. Haiti is the perfect example of this, although the people that donated to help Haiti probably genuinely cared at the time. Unfortunately, the American public has a horrible case of media ADHD. You care about something for sometime, but when it becomes old news and the media stops reporting it, you move on to the next big thing. Haiti was a huge example of this and so was Kony 2012. I have great respect for people like Paul Farmer. He does great things and genuinely cares.

    One of my Facebook friends is of Haitian descent. After the media started to leave Haiti, she would post status messages pleading for people to continue donating money to Haiti because they still need our help. But as I mentioned, we have media ADHD in this country. When it becomes old news, you stop caring. I think the enormous influx then sudden discontinuation of help to Haiti probably had many detrimental effects.

    Even though I feel dirty saying this, but I'm guessing that there were pre-meds at the time who might have seen this as an opportunity to boost their applications. I've never met anyone who did personally or find threads, but I'm sure they are out there... :( :wtf: I think something like this would be downright sad, and should be looked down upon. I think it is possible that pre-meds could have taken advantage of the Japan tsunami as well, though it didn't get nearly the type of attention like Haiti did. :thumbdown: :(

    As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't say that the pre-meds necessarily suffer from media ADHD. I don't think their interest is sparked by some massive media event. Instead, it's sparked by the check-box mentality of medical school admissions combined with a mission trip that either fits their schedule, price point, or location. I don't think the thought of unintentionally harming the population is on their mind, even though this point is pretty well-known. This is for the people who believe having a mission trip under their belt will greatly help their application. This isn't to insult people who do have a genuine interest in the population.
     
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  40. pp77

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    http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/philg/2011/08/19/12-year-old-perspective-on-hospital-do-gooders/

     
  41. OP
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  42. syoung

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    Great post. I think the most important thing is exactly what you highlighted (connection, what else did you do after the trip?)
     
  43. goofball

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    I don't get it. What does that have to with anything?

    From what I understand, the girl (Sophie) is annoyed because volunteers are asking to help her? How does that reflect badly on the volunteers?

    Sophie's annoyance is understandable given her mental condition, but that doesn't have anything to do with our volunteers.
     
  44. OP
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    Planes2Doc

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    Oh I think I just interpreted this from a very biased perspective. Somehow I thought of this as a little girl saying that if she had so much energy, that she would spend the time with friends, like people who aren't pre-meds would. I think I might have over-thought this one.
     
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  45. circulus vitios

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    Yes it does. Hospital volunteers are almost always annoying, sanctimonious little douchebags.
     
  46. HSUReddie

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    This. This. This. :thumbup: That's exactly what I was trying to explain when I said I really think we need to question the sustainability of some of these trips. You just said it a lot better.

    I was going to buy that book the other day... and didn't. Sounds like it's worth reading. I have the big book that is a compilation of a lot of his earlier works though.
     
  47. The Milkman

    5+ Year Member

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    So...
    -If I'm looking at volunteering in a country such as Peru or Guatemala for a few weeks next summer after I graduate before I apply to med school, and
    -I am a Spanish minor, and would like to enhance my language skills and get good use out of them, and
    -I have medical training so would not be doing anything I couldn't do here in the States, and
    -I have a genuine interest in helping communities in poverty and seeing first hand what healthcare is like in areas like that, and
    -I'm not looking to use this as a "Golden Ticket" or make a huge deal about it on my application, as I have plenty more local volunteer and clinical experiences that will be going on my application, and
    -I just want to go....

    This is frowned upon?
     
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  48. Pseudonymity

    2+ Year Member

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    Why do people see the US's clinical operations as the pinnacle of everything that is right in the world and what humanity needs to strive for? If I can't adjust a patient's pillow in an ED, is it really because I didn't take a qualifications course on how to navigate feathers wrapped in cloth or is it because the country I'm in has an absolutely ridiculously overprotected system thanks to a select few patients and lawyers who have taken advantage of mishaps in the past.

    In the early 2000s a lady sued McDonald's because she spilled hot coffee on herself and burned her legs. Was this because the employee didn't take a certification course on how to hand coffee through a window to a lady sitting in a car or because said lady (and her lawyer) wanted to make 10 million in puntative damages. Now all coffee cups from McDonald read "caution: contents may be hot". How many people would you estimate have been saved from burns because they were unaware that hot coffee was hot and that upon reading the message they decided to not spill hot coffee on their legs? None? Well then perhaps that means all drive through employees should go through safety course. That'll for sure reduce accidents.
     
  49. circulus vitios

    7+ Year Member

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    That coffee was obscenely hot, so hot it caused part of her labia to fuse to her thigh. So, apparently we do need drive through employees to go through safety training.
     
  50. Pseudonymity

    2+ Year Member

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    If by obscenely hot you mean the same temperature at which Starbucks sells their coffee and McDonald's still sells their coffee, then yes, life threateningly hot. Here I was worrying about nuclear weapons when in fact the true danger is in my backyard.

    Let me know when you undergo safety training to adjust your pillow before you go to sleep at night
     

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