This post can also be found on the Premed Advice page.
The real benefit of volunteering in a clinic, hospital, nursing home, etc. is more than just clinical experience. To be honest, many volunteer opportunities don’t provide the immersion into medicine that people tend to think they’re going to get. However, I highly recommend volunteering for several reasons:
a) If you’ve never experienced a clinical setting, this is a good starting point to “get your feet wet”. Usually, you won’t be exposed to anything terribly unsettling. If you find situations that are uncomfortable or make you queasy from volunteer work, you should probably consider a career other than medicine.
b) Volunteering opens the door to more interactive opportunities, and better yet, opportunities that you can get paid for! By no means do I advocate taking an opportunity based strictly on financial gain, but most premed students will be less than financially stable for several years, so it definitely helps to have an income. There are several jobs in hospital settings that require little to no education, but a big selling point on obtaining a position is your clinical experiences. By completing volunteer activities, you’ll have the clinical experience that employers are looking for from interviewees. My very first clinical experience was volunteering in a hospital twice a week with very little responsibility. However, my next accomplishment less than a year later was a job as a patient sitter where I was able to interact with patients and observe the nurses and physicians in action.
c) You might meet someone who opens the door to better opportunities and/or is able to answer any questions you may have about medicine. From my experience, doctors and nurses are generally happy to talk with students interested in the field of medicine so take advantage of an opportunity to talk with them! Volunteer opportunities that provide you with chances to talk to medical personal are highly encouraged. You could create lasting relationships with nurses and physicians, and you may even see them years down the road when you’re in the medical field yourself.
d) The most obvious and simple reason to volunteer is you make a difference! I would hope anyone aspiring to be a physician has an innate desire to help others. Volunteering is an opportunity to do just that! Even if you get stuck with mundane tasks that don’t seem like you’re doing much, trust me when I saw that you are, even if indirectly. Each task in a clinical setting has a specific purpose and every employee and volunteer makes a difference. Just a few examples include: a patient greet can ease patient anxiety, cleaning leads to a more presentable establishment that patients can trust, stocking supplies saves the nurses’ time so they can treat patients more efficiently, and many more. Not only do you get more clinical exposure for your resume, but you help others along the way.