Write a Personal Statement without Much Volunteering?

Dr Gerrard

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I don't have much volunteering. This is my applications biggest weakness.

I have leadership in an organization that cleans up the nearby forests, put up signs, make maps, etc. This is my most extensive volunteering.

I also volunteered at the hospital last summer for about 4 hours a week. Here, I helped out with mostly administrative stuff.

I am a personal tutor for my organic chemistry teacher's students. He recommends them to me and I help them. I have maybe done this 3 or 4 times though?

I have a bunch of scattered volunteering experiences like going to my nearby community care center for a few hours, but I have maybe done that 3 or 4 times? Not nearly enough to be significant.

Side question 1: how do I put these scattered experiences on my application?
Side question 2: Should the PS be about why you want to be a doctor (ie what you want to do) or about how the things you have already done show you will be a good doctor?

Main question: although you don't come out and say "i want to be a doctor to help people," it seems like one of those things you have to at least somewhat imply. How do I do this if I haven't done anything formally? I mean I would always stay after class to help anyone who needs help, people would call me late at night before exams and I would go over and help them, etc.
 

Dr Gerrard

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PS I know many might say that I need to take a year off and get some of this, I am set on not doing this. I have great numbers and I believe my other ECs are also good.
 

roseglass6370

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I haven't applied yet, but I'll give you my take:

I'm not sure your biggest weakness is lack of volunteering. Your participation in the nature organization is volunteering. Your biggest weakness appears to be your lack of clinical experience. You said you volunteered at a hospital last summer for about 4hrs a week but most of it was administrative stuff. What all did that entail? Did you have any interactions with patients? Have you shadowed a doctor? Those are important things that show you have a genuine interest in the medical field and are looked for as such by adcoms.

Also, your PS does not have to revolve around volunteering experiences at all. (This seems to be your concern?) Think about why you think you would make a good doctor and play this up in your PS. You don't have to talk endlessly about your humanitarian experiences and your experiences with patients, but rather what makes you a unique candidate for matriculation. Think of it as your "sales pitch."

Does that answer your question?
 

roseglass6370

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Also, to answer "side question 1," go for quality over quantity when it comes to adding ECs to your app. For example, the nature organization should definitely be added, but the random 3-4 hr volunteer events should not. Adding those would just be unnecessary padding that adcoms would see right through.
 

Dr Gerrard

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I do have clinical experience though. I spent close to 20 hours a week shadowing a neurosurgeon as well last summer. I did everything with them. I followed around the attendings, went to their weekly case meetings, went to clinic with them, went to surgery with them. I followed around the residents, watched them do rounds, watched them do all of the tedious things that attendings no longer had to do. I even got to scrub in a few times.
 

roseglass6370

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I do have clinical experience though. I spent close to 20 hours a week shadowing a neurosurgeon as well last summer. I did everything with them. I followed around the attendings, went to their weekly case meetings, went to clinic with them, went to surgery with them. I followed around the residents, watched them do rounds, watched them do all of the tedious things that attendings no longer had to do. I even got to scrub in a few times.
Ah, okay. In that case, I'd say you have significant experience. This, again, is just my opinion, however.
 

Dr Gerrard

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Ah, okay. In that case, I'd say you have significant experience. This, again, is just my opinion, however.
i appreciate the support. i guess i just need to go with a new theme of my PS.

My main story is that I went to india, saw how unequal the treatment was (richer getting significantly better treatment than the poor, i know this exists in the states too, but it was a lot more obvious there, which opened my eyes to the existing problem here). However, I don't have any experiences revolving around helping the underprivileged. Do I need to scrap this because of it?
 

Dr Gerrard

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imo the only thing worse than writing the first draft of the PS is having to rewrite it completely lol.

judging from my last post, do i have to do this?
 

roseglass6370

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I'm surprised that no one else has responded to you yet! I feel like there are other people on here that are probably more equipped to answer your questions than I am, just because I haven't started the application process yet. But, as I said before, I'm still willing to give my 2 cents as to what I would do.

Just because you haven't had an opportunity to serve the underprivileged doesn't mean that you still can't use your experience in India as part of your PS. In fact, I would encourage you to incorporate it in some way if it was meaningful for you. However, only you can decide the best way to draw from it. Most of all I think your PS should be genuine. I wouldn't try to stretch the experiences you have had with what volunteer work you have done to somehow force a connection with your time in India. Adcoms are amazing at sensing BS.

Take a look at SDN's featured article for today: http://www.studentdoctor.net/2010/04/personal-statement-myths/

It has some great tips and touches on the topic of themes for a PS.
 

Dr Gerrard

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Do you think writing about how some people got preferential treatment might be construed as me badmouthing the doctor? I know this is generally a red flag, so I'm curious.
 

LizzyM

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Do you think writing about how some people got preferential treatment might be construed as me badmouthing the doctor? I know this is generally a red flag, so I'm curious.
You seem to want to point out that the poor get poor care but you don't walk the walk of doing something to alleviate the disparities between rich and poor in your own country. Your volunteer service is toward the environment and the (rich) people who have the time to take a walk in the woods. Maybe I'm cranky today but I think that you have to sell your application on the basis of your research strength and your clinical exposure and hope they don't notice the elephant in the room which is your lack of time or interest in service to the needy. (hey, different strokes for different folks).
 

SweetRain

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Is there a good excuse for not having enough volunteer hours? I have plenty of research experience because I thought I wanted to do MD/PhD until my junior year when I realized that I want to do MD/MPH. So I have more volunteering towards the end than before.

If you have a good reason, try explaining it in your PS without sounding like an excuse.
 

DrSmooth

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You seem to want to point out that the poor get poor care but you don't walk the walk of doing something to alleviate the disparities between rich and poor in your own country. Your volunteer service is toward the environment and the (rich) people who have the time to take a walk in the woods. Maybe I'm cranky today but I think that you have to sell your application on the basis of your research strength and your clinical exposure and hope they don't notice the elephant in the room which is your lack of time or interest in service to the needy. (hey, different strokes for different folks).
This is hard, honest, but good advice. Not everyone can be a Mother Theresa type applicant, so don't try to be if you are not one (in terms of your experience). Stay true to your "brand" and emphasize your strengths.

And it would be fine to include your India experience, but focus on it's impact on you as a person, not your opinion of Indian health care inequalities. Honestly, assuming you were only there a short time, you are in no position to accurately judge the host culture and their access (or lack thereof) to health care. There are so many nuances you cannot be aware of that it's just too easy to come off as ignorant and/or condescending toward the host culture, especially when speaking about "the poor". (In all fairness, I lived in a slum in India for a couple years. One thing that surprised me was the level of health care access my friends and neighbors had, whether that be a neighborhood free clinic, the govt hospital down the street, or the private hospital which people would rely on friends and family to help pay for. But it's hard to see this stuff during a 2-wk trip.)

And about writing a 2nd PS, give it a try, just stream of consciousness stuff. You may find that you like it better than your first. It took me 3 fresh tries to get a first draft I was happy with. YMMV.
 

DrSmooth

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Also, let your strengths help you decide where to apply. If you don't have much volunteering or work with the underserved, then perhaps don't apply to too many schools which have this as a defining part of their mission. For me, I had no research, so I stayed away from most research heavy schools, unless they also had a big emphasis on the underserved. I never apologized for my lack of research, I just really emphasized the other parts of my application. When asked about my lack of research, I gave a confident answer about understanding the importance of research but also understanding my own passion as a clinician serving the underserved, which is how I chose to spend my limited time.
 

Dr Gerrard

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You seem to want to point out that the poor get poor care but you don't walk the walk of doing something to alleviate the disparities between rich and poor in your own country. Your volunteer service is toward the environment and the (rich) people who have the time to take a walk in the woods. Maybe I'm cranky today but I think that you have to sell your application on the basis of your research strength and your clinical exposure and hope they don't notice the elephant in the room which is your lack of time or interest in service to the needy. (hey, different strokes for different folks).
This is what I was expecting. I couldn't think of any other good anecdote to begin my PS with, so I thought I would go with this angle, which simply turned out to be a dead end. Thanks for the tough love.

Is there a good excuse for not having enough volunteer hours? I have plenty of research experience because I thought I wanted to do MD/PhD until my junior year when I realized that I want to do MD/MPH. So I have more volunteering towards the end than before.

If you have a good reason, try explaining it in your PS without sounding like an excuse.
I think I have a good excuse, not a good reason if you know what I mean lol. I've lived away from home since I have been 15, preventing me from getting significant experience at home. The first two years I went to a boarding high school where we weren't even allowed to do any volunteering outside of NHS/other clubs like this. I did do this, but thats in high school. The rest have been in another university town. Nothing is here besides my university. Everything in the town is the color of my university's colors haha. I have done scattered things here and there, but nothing solid. I don't have a car, so the one time I did manage to borrow one from a friend and go to the local hospital (20 minutes away), I was told that there really wasn't a typical volunteering center like at most other hospitals, and it was basically limited to senior citizens and high school students. There is a free clinic that is open once a week for two hours, but I have literally had class or a club meeting every semester I have been at college during that time. There are volunteering organizations that I should have joined, but I didn't.

Also, let your strengths help you decide where to apply. If you don't have much volunteering or work with the underserved, then perhaps don't apply to too many schools which have this as a defining part of their mission. For me, I had no research, so I stayed away from most research heavy schools, unless they also had a big emphasis on the underserved. I never apologized for my lack of research, I just really emphasized the other parts of my application. When asked about my lack of research, I gave a confident answer about understanding the importance of research but also understanding my own passion as a clinician serving the underserved, which is how I chose to spend my limited time.
thanks drsmooth, this was very helpful.

last thing. do you think i can not mention anything about lack of access or inequalities, just simply mention that i had always heard and known that some people were more privileged than others, but had never seen it to this effect?

and then tie this in to my tutoring experiences and say that I spent much of my time in university helping those less fortunate than me in academics.. is this too much of a stretch?
i only bolded this because i wrote a lot and this is the most important part of my post lol.
 

LizzyM

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do you think i can not mention anything about lack of access or inequalities, just simply mention that i had always heard and known that some people were more privileged than others, but had never seen it to this effect?

and then tie this in to my tutoring experiences and say that I spent much of my time in university helping those less fortunate than me in academics.. is this too much of a stretch?
Unlike the zit on your chin (quite obvious to everyone), this is a zit that isn't visible. Do you want to point out when meeting someone for the first time that you have a zit on your back and explain it? No! You want to focus on the positive.

Put your focus on the positive aspects of your application: research experience, clinical experience, the enjoyment that comes from physical effort and mental relaxation in the forest and your efforts to make the forest accessible to others.

Do not mention that you know that x or y is a problem but that you didn't address it. Focus on the positives. With tutoring fellow students the take home message should be that teaching helped you learn the material and that you also learned that people learn in different ways (this is important when you think about the challenges of explaining things to patients). The focus on tutoring should not be that you were "helping the less fortunate" as it smacks of condescension.
 
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last thing. do you think i can not mention anything about lack of access or inequalities, just simply mention that i had always heard and known that some people were more privileged than others, but had never seen it to this effect?

and then tie this in to my tutoring experiences and say that I spent much of my time in university helping those less fortunate than me in academics.. is this too much of a stretch? i only bolded this because i wrote a lot and this is the most important part of my post lol.
Gerrard that's a load of bull, mentioning that others are more priviledged only hurts you because your making unfounded and irrelevant arguments, the personal statement is an argument of why you are suitable to become a physician not why your being handicapped in your quest to become one.

And lastly, to claim that your helping the "less fortunate" academically doesnt sound right, it sounds like your acknowledging that these are lesser being. I would use the term "Students with Academic Difficulty" because less fortunate implies that they are in a financial constraint and therefore have to depend on your charity or academically challenged.

My recommendation is to perhaps reword your statement and really be yourself, you put so much emphasis on trying to glorify yourself in what I'm assuming is a 200 word section.

How bout if you beef up your volunteering experiences, sure you might have 20 hours of hospital time, but how hard is it to beef up?

"During the last summer, I've volunteered at So & So General Hospital as a Emergency Room Volunteer where I've had the oppourtunity to get hands on experiences on what the world of medicine must resemble. It was during this period that I had to oppourtunity to understand the holistic aspect of medicine and really experience the essence of it. I've learnt alot from the nurses, physicians and auxilliary workers who've been gracious to take me under their wings as their apprentice and learn the three pillars of medicine: the healer aspect, the professional aspect and the educator aspect."

Something like that, and look, I've written a paragraph with only one volunteering job. Its not about quantity, it's about quality and what I've written demonstrates what I've learnt from the volunteering stint, not how much of it I did and thats what they want to see.

Med schools want to see that you learnt something out of the volunteering stint, not that you spent all your free time volunteering.
 

Dr Gerrard

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Unlike the zit on your chin (quite obvious to everyone), this is a zit that isn't visible. Do you want to point out when meeting someone for the first time that you have a zit on your back and explain it? No! You want to focus on the positive.

Put your focus on the positive aspects of your application: research experience, clinical experience, the enjoyment that comes from physical effort and mental relaxation in the forest and your efforts to make the forest accessible to others.

Do not mention that you know that x or y is a problem but that you didn't address it. Focus on the positives. With tutoring fellow students the take home message should be that teaching helped you learn the material and that you also learned that people learn in different ways (this is important when you think about the challenges of explaining things to patients). The focus on tutoring should not be that you were "helping the less fortunate" as it smacks of condescension.
my naivety often gets the best of me lizzym. thanks for your help.

looks like i was ultimately writing what i thought i was supposed to, not what i really wanted to. i'll scrap the whole thing and start over.
 

Dr Gerrard

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Gerrard that's a load of bull, mentioning that others are more priviledged only hurts you because your making unfounded and irrelevant arguments, the personal statement is an argument of why you are suitable to become a physician not why your being handicapped in your quest to become one.

And lastly, to claim that your helping the "less fortunate" academically doesnt sound right, it sounds like your acknowledging that these are lesser being. I would use the term "Students with Academic Difficulty" because less fortunate implies that they are in a financial constraint and therefore have to depend on your charity or academically challenged.

My recommendation is to perhaps reword your statement and really be yourself, you put so much emphasis on trying to glorify yourself in what I'm assuming is a 200 word section.

How bout if you beef up your volunteering experiences, sure you might have 20 hours of hospital time, but how hard is it to beef up?

"During the last summer, I've volunteered at So & So General Hospital as a Emergency Room Volunteer where I've had the oppourtunity to get hands on experiences on what the world of medicine must resemble. It was during this period that I had to oppourtunity to understand the holistic aspect of medicine and really experience the essence of it. I've learnt alot from the nurses, physicians and auxilliary workers who've been gracious to take me under their wings as their apprentice and learn the three pillars of medicine: the healer aspect, the professional aspect and the educator aspect."

Something like that, and look, I've written a paragraph with only one volunteering job. Its not about quantity, it's about quality and what I've written demonstrates what I've learnt from the volunteering stint, not how much of it I did and thats what they want to see.

Med schools want to see that you learnt something out of the volunteering stint, not that you spent all your free time volunteering.
John D it really is a load of bull lol. I had written a bull**** PS for my technical writing class. I did it as I would ahve for med school, but didn't put much effort into it. I had this little anecdote I could tell, so I started with that. In mine though, I talked about how I would want to do doctors without borders (i really do), etc. But then i realized i don't have any experiences to even hint at my desire to do DWB haha. I didn't want to rewrite the whole thing, but thats pretty much inevitable at this point.