What kind of volunteer work will help me decide about medical school?
January 9, 2007 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Say I want to change my career path and go to medical school. What kind of volunteering would be helpful in terms of a) deciding if medicine is for me, and b) getting into medical school?

I am just finishing a master's degree in a hard science, but I am finding that after a change of major as an undergraduate and now a change of heart as a grad student that things are never as they seem from the outside. I always wanted to be a research professor until I hung out with a bunch of research professors and found out it doesn't fit with my personality at all. I'm certain that academia is all wrong for me.

I've given a lot of thought over the last year or so to medical school, and I think medicine would potentially be a much better fit for me — science and interaction with other people on a regular basis! But I don't want to invest loads of time and money and mental stability just to find that it's not for me, either.

I've been wanting to do some volunteer work this year anyway, and I thought this also would be a good opportunity to explore my options... I just don't know where to start. I am admittedly also looking for something that might help me on a medical school application as well, but that is more of a perk than a motivation.

The few caveats:

1. While my graduate student schedule is pretty flexible, I would prefer to keep regular business hours reserved for school, for the most part. Maybe a couple of hours on the occasional afternoon, but not every week.

2. I'm currently living in Seattle, but I am leaving for a three-month out-of-state internship in June. I'll be back in the fall (possibly), but I can't commit to anything that would require extensive training before I can really even get started doing some actual work.
posted by limicoline to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Any hospital will have a volunteer office - some still call it "candy-striping," after the pink and white striped coats once issued to volunteers.

Patients are on "nursing stations," so see if you can volunteer "on the nursing station." I recall when I did this, I was interested in contact with patients (wheeling folks around the hospital in wheelchairs), but I was disappointed that a lot of my duties were xeroxing charts (for patients who were transferring to other facilities.)

As it turned out, though, that was awesome, because I read the charts while I was xeroxing them and on the way to and from the xerox room. About every fifth word I had to look up in my pocket Stedman's medical dictionary. Eventually the charts started to make sense.

At the end of the year I spent volunteering, I had nearly a complete medical education, in terms of what is done in hospitals. Medical school just rounded out the why and the how.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:35 PM on January 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

I should expand a bit. I found both chatting with the patients and reading these medical charts fascinating.

If either one seems dull to you, that's not a good sign, because if you take away the chatting with sick people and the reading and writing in charts, there's very little left to medicine except the science of it. And being a doc isn't about science - it's about taking care of sick people. If you want to do science, be a scientist.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:37 PM on January 9, 2007

Not sure if you'll find this relevant, but...

I'm taking an evening EMT-Basic class now as a way to see if some sort of nursing/paramedic career change might be a good fit. I'm not looking to enter med school, but there are more than a few other folks (high school, college and above) taking the class to feel out a medical career; they tell me having an EMT certification is looked upon favorably by med school admissions folks.

The course is offered through a local community college with a connection to an area hospital, three nights a week from October to March, with clinicals (ride-alongs with local units, basically) on a couple of weekends, so works perfectly with a fulltime day job or daily school schedule. Total tuition was about $75, plus $60 for a couple of textbooks, and assuming I pass the state tests, time invested to get certified at an entry level will be slightly less than 5 months.

In this area, once you have the Basic certification, all of the county EMS services are happy to have you along as a volunteer, and many offer part-time positions. Might be worth exploring as an option to get your feet wet and/or boost your resume.
posted by mediareport at 9:18 PM on January 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Since you are affiliated with a graduate school, don't they have a health center that treats students?

When I was an undergrad (and similarly wanted to assess whether I wanted to continue the premed track) - I volunteered at the student health center. I ended up in the physical therapy department. Some of it was mindless (sign the patient it) - however, some of the Physical Therapists allowed you to shadow them, showed you the X-rays, machines, and you were asked to sit with a patient while they were receiving treatment.

These volunteer programs preferred a commitment of 2 hrs/week for a semester. I think that would fit well with your schedule - provided you have a health facilty. If not your school, is there a nearby university orr CC that has one?
posted by Wolfster at 9:22 PM on January 9, 2007

(Er, EMT = emergency medical technician, sorry)
posted by mediareport at 9:23 PM on January 9, 2007

You may want to also ask this question on the forums at http://www.studentdoctor.net - there are many non-traditional pre-med students that regularly post over there, and they may be able to give you more specific advice and suggest programs/hospitals in your area.
posted by btkuhn at 4:17 AM on January 10, 2007

My sister spent a year after undergrad as a "scribe," which means that she worked in a hospital, following doctors around and writing down their diagnoses and prescriptions and whatnot. That might be slightly wrong, but that was my understanding of it.

Anyway, at the end of it, she had the vocabulary (not the medical knowledge, mind you) of a third-year medical student, as well as a year of practical (and paid) work in a hospital environment, on a number of different wings of the hospital (peds, ER, etc.).

I know you have your grad school schedule, and don't have the time to commit to another job, but it's something to think about. And it might help someone else who reads this and is considering medicine.

My sister's now in her first year at UVA med school.
posted by Alt F4 at 5:49 AM on January 10, 2007

I volunteered at a couple of different places:

1. ER: fun, exciting (trauma cases), kind of crazy people.
2. Ward: hanging out with the nurses, talking with patients, pushing patients to radiology, far less to see than in the ER.
3. Practical Anatomy Workshop: Many medical schools will have something like this. It's a place where surgeons can come and talk with surgical instrument makers and practice using the new surgical instruments on cadavers. This is where I met my pathology mentor and began shadowing him and seeing what his in-office job was like. Basically I decided to become a pathologist after working with this guy (I didn't know what one was before or what they did). So if you're near a medical school that has one, I'm sure they would be happy to have you volunteer. My job there was to set up for the workshops and clean up.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 8:16 AM on January 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

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