Volunteer Activities

Is there a way that I can utilize my prior training as an EMT to volunteer in the emergency department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital (BJH) or perhaps at a local clinic or the Saturday Afternoon Student Health clinic?

Community clinics or nursing homes would be a better place to look for a volunteer position where you might be able to utilize your experience as an EMT but you would need to check to see what the responsibilities of that position would be. You will need to go through their human resources department. You should be able to find several in the St. Louis area by a simple Google search. Be patient. This could take some time. 

Volunteering in a private physician's office may also lead to this kind of opportunity, as a private doctor has more discretion as to what he/she will allow a volunteer to do because it's THEIR private practice. You should ask if you could shadow or serve as a volunteer in ANY capacity needed, however, without specifying that you wish to utilize your experience as an EMT to assist in patient care. That would likely result in a quick "no" by many private doctors. Once you are there and they get to know you they might feel more comfortable in allowing you to help out a little more. 

I usually recommend that students request shadowing or volunteer work through their own family physician when they are back home on break. This person is more likely to help you out and may even help set you up with further clinical experiences with his/her colleagues. Realize though that in some private physician's offices you may be asked to work with the office/clerical staff instead of directly with patients. But I have heard of some students who have been able to take vital signs and check visual acuity in a private doctor's office. It really depends on the physician. 

In regard to your specific question about volunteering at BJH, what most students don't understand is that there are VERY strict regulations regarding assisting in patient care at hospitals (hospital-wide, departmental, and Joint Commission regulations) and these regulations are becoming increasingly more stringent. There's a high likelihood, for example, that in the near future hospitals will require shadowers to undergo a criminal background check and provide a hair or urine sample in order to test for recent cannabis use. And this is just for shadowing! These regulations will be required by the Joint Commission - the organization which accredits hospitals. And currently the legal requirements as set down by risk management at BJH is that shadowers are not even permitted to touch patients (handshakes are still ok :). So you can see why something as simple as helping take blood pressures wouldn't be allowed unless you're an ED tech and these are full-time jobs. The volunteers in our ED assist in non-clinical ways and the guidelines are simply so strict that risk management would not permit students to serve in a quasi-tech role in the ED as a part-time student wanting to gain experience. 20 years ago maybe but not anymore. 

The Saturday Neighborhood Clinic is a great idea but at the current time there isn't enough attending staffing provided that would allow for the supervision of both medical students and undergraduates at this time. I know because I serve on the faculty advisory board for that clinic. 

My last piece of advise is to not limit yourself or be too picky as to what clinical experience you will take. This is a mistake that some students make. Just finding something that will give you a chance to explore a clinical opportunity or give you exposure to the medical field is the main thing. What you actually do isn't necessarily as important as the passion and drive you bring to it. 

What kind of volunteer activities should I do?
All volunteer activities have their merit. Students should engage in activities that interest them and in which they have the passion to play as major of a role as possible. At some point, however, students should explore clinically related activities in order to best determine if they enjoy this kind of work. This could involve work in a hospital, clinic, nursing home or physician's office. Click here for a list of service groups available at WashU through the Community Service Office. For more information on volunteering at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, click here

What types of extracurricular activities do medical school admissions committees consider important?
You should engage in activities in which you have a genuine interest/passion. Involvement in community service activities reflects a genuine interest in serving others, which is a cornerstone of medicine. WashU students typically have no trouble finding an activity that appeals to them (tutoring, coaching, working at food banks, etc.), but the Community Service office keeps a list of organizations at which students may become involved [link].

Are athletic activities also considered as extracurricular activities that would be beneficial to medical school applications such as school sports, intramurals or even gym activities?
Yes. Medical schools definitely want to know about your involvement outside of the classroom. So any activity, whether it involves sports, involvement in the arts such as music, dancing, and singing or even less formalized hobbies such as running, weight training, cooking, etc. should be listed on your application as they are a part of who you are and also something that makes you interesting as a person. 

Does it matter what kind of clinical activity I do?
This is a common question among students. In general, it's simply important to get involved. What you do is not as important as demonstrating a consistent passion OVER TIME. This can mean serving as a volunteer as a nurse's aide, work as a patient transporter in the hospital or service as a registration tech in the emergency room. Other jobs, such as EMTs or operating room techs are going to require more training. But serving in a role, part-time every Saturday, over the course of a year or more demonstrates a genuine interest in an activity and the ability to commit to something. Whatever activity you find - do something that you have a passion for and put your heart into it. If you do this you will be successful.  

Is it ok to list high school activities on our application/resume?
Yes, if they are major activities that make sense with regard to your application to medicine. For example, if you were an Eagle Scout (demonstrates leadership) or performed research while in high school I would list it. I would limit the number of activities to a few major ones, however, as medical schools would like to see what activities you've done more recently that demonstrate your interest and passion for medicine. 

When should I start looking for a volunteer position or clinical job?
The sooner the better. You should expect that it can take several months to hear back from an employer once you file your application. If you are looking for a summer position, I would recommend looking for the position early in your Spring semester and applying for the job no later than March. Waiting until a few weeks before the summer starts can often be too late. 

My fraternity participates in a number of community service projects. Should I list these on my application?
Absolutely. It really doesn't matter how you go about serving or getting involved in a community project. You should list every activity in which you participate. 

I'm a Residential Advisor in my college dorm. Is this something I should list on my application?
Absolutely. Serving as a RA is a huge commitment and gives you the ability to develop and hone your leadership skills. This is something I would definitely note in your application. 

Is it important to volunteer in a hospital, or if it is enough to just do other types of volunteer work?
All volunteer activities are good but at some point you want to make sure to get involved in activities that involve a hospital, a clinic, a doctor's office, or a nursing home.  The reason is that these kind of activities give you a chance to see whether or not you like the environment of taking care of people, working with the sick and being in a clinical environment.  If one does all of his/her volunteer activities in non-patient or non-medically related areas, an admissions committee may wonder why you're not pursuing social work or some other career that is focused on helping people, but not necessarily helping them through medicine.  You simply want to find out for yourself and demonstrate to medical schools that you know and like what you're getting into.