Hospital Volunteering Tips for Pre-meds?

<p>I’m a pre-med student looking for a hospital to volunteer at in Boston for my four years at college. Does anyone have any suggestions for which hospitals are good with maintaining relationships with long term volunteers, such as providing letters of recommendation for medical school, or for example allowing students to develop relationship with the doctors/nurses they see all the time during their shifts? I know some hospitals volunteer programs are rather disorganized and don’t get to see what work students are doing, making it hard to get to know them. any suggestions are helpful, thanks in advance!</p>

<p>Many of the pre-meds I know seem to have success interning at MGH, which is the Boston-area hospital with the easiest commute from MIT.</p>

<p>Another way to create a meaningful relationship with doctors there, since MGH (and many of the hospitals in the extended Longwood Medical Area network) are research hospitals, is to pursue research in an MD(-PhD)-led group.</p>

<p>^Agreed. My lab is at MGH, and we have/have had many premed undergraduates work with us in a research capacity as UROPs, then shadow the MD/PhD lab members when they're in the clinic. This seems to have resulted in more meaningful experiences than just volunteering in the hospital, which several of our undergraduates also do, which seems to consist mostly of pushing people around the hospital in wheelchairs.</p>

<p>You'll have to do a lot of your own digging. Meeting with current and former volunteers is probably your best bet. In my area, hospitals (and even departments within hospitals) can vary widely in the opportunities and responsibilities they allow to volunteers.</p>

<p>One gives some very hands on experience in a level 1 trauma center and burn ward. Another limits volunteers to candy striping. </p>

<p>Hopefully some students in the Boston area can chime in. Don't hesitate to ask other students at your school interested in medicine or professors for their experiences. Does your school have a pre-medicine adviser or committee?</p>

<p>There is pre-med advising at MIT. Each student can also get a pre-med advisor, who is usually a hospital faculty (or staff?) member.</p>

<p>MIT has a strong volunteer/shadowing relationship with MGH, so a lot of people work at MGH. I've always had a negative view about MGH because unless you work in their labs, my friends I know who have worked there just work the info desk and answer phone calls....not exactly your version of the best clinical encounter.</p>

<p>I'd personally go with smaller hospitals like Cambridge Alliance up at Davis Square. Personally, I've found the smaller the hospital is, the better they are at making a personal connection with you (since there's going to be a lot fewer volunteers and more hands-on opportunities). I had a good volunteer experience there (they want you to submit an urine drug test through before starting, and it was kind of awkward....HAHA - I've never had a drug test done so I didn't quite know what to expect).</p>

<p>For much of junior year though, I started volunteering as a medical interpreter at Tufts Medical (formerly New England Medical Center, near Chinatown), and I really like it there too, but my experience is primarily limited to their interpretation dept, so I don't know what the rest of the hospital is like. They do have a good volunteer office that tries very actively to match you up with assignments though if you don't have a dedicated office already, which is a plus : )</p>

<p>There's also other community clinics (e.g. Boston Evening Clinic - which treats homeless people, Lowell (I think you need a car, that treats Chinese patients)) that offer volunteering experiences. In general, I would strongly advise against volunteering experiences that involve 1) pushing people in wheelchairs or 2) answering telephone calls/info desk. I don't want to say that these experiences are "useless" since you're still providing a service, but they're next to useless for med school admissions. The keys to medical volunteer that med schools look for is 1) active exposure to patients (a common cliche thrown around is that you have to be close enough to "smell the patient") and 2) valuable interaction with nurses + doctors that you get a good sense of what they're job is like (kind of like shadowing, except you do it all the time when you volunteer, as opposed to when you sign up for those one-day shadowing experiences which IMO is pretty useless too).</p>

<p>@oasis - wow thanks! that was exactly the advice i was looking for. how did you get your position as a medical interpreter at Tufts Med? I was thinking of volunteering at the Emergency department there. it did not have a very formal application process like other hospitals had (letters of rec/references), which idk is a good or bad thing. </p>

<p>what kind of work did you do at the cambridge alliance? </p>

<p>also does anyone heard of South Cove being a good place to volunteer? thanks!</p>

<p>Well, I took a medical interpreting class through UMass Med School that lasted one semester, and then I connected with the person who was teaching the course, who was one of the head interpreters at Tufts Med and she found me the volunteering position. </p>

<p>I like Tufts; I didn't know they didn't require letters of recs (or that any other places do, haha so MGH does?). I think their Volunteer Head is pretty nice - I had to go through the Volunteer Dept initially to get the HIPAA training and such but from the people who did the volunteering orientation with me it seems like there's all types of volunteers there.</p>

<p>I also did interpreting work at Cambridge Alliance, and some general volunteer work - I switched to Tufts when I could because the transportation is more convenient :P But the people are really nice there!</p>

<p>I was totally going to volunteer at South Cove, especially given my immigrant health focus, but their Human Resources is really bad at getting in touch with me. The first time I contacted them they told me to fill out an application and mail it in, but I never got a response back from them. The second time I called them again and she told me that they have me on file and they'll get in touch with me after later review of my file, but they never did either. Then I started work at Tufts so I stopped hassling them. =p I shadowed at South Cove briefly my frosh year though, and I really like the clinic. It would have been the perfect place to volunteer.</p>

<p>You can also look into Boston Med Center if you want to volunteer in the ER. A bunch of my BU premed friends (and a few Harvard premeds I met on the bus) volunteer there and I think they have a pretty non-rigorous policy for taking premed volunteers.</p>

<p>Thanks for the info!
I am interested in volunteering in the ER, and at Tufts Med they said ER jobs include "talking to patients, changing bed linen, organizing patient rooms, cleaning toys, getting blankets and providing books, etc" but is this really the type of experience that's valuable to a premed? (like you said, "1) active exposure to patients and 2) valuable interaction with nurses + doctors". </p>

<p>Are all hospitals (like Boston Med Center) similar to Tufts Med in what they allow volunteers to do in the ER/other departments?</p>

<p>and could you elaborate on what you mean by "general volunteer work" at Cambridge Alliance? (could vary from place to place) from what I saw on their volunteer website, the positions don't involve patient contact?</p>

<p>^ Well, talking to patients will count as exposure, right? And some hospitals are pretty wary of having premeds in the ER since they think you're just extra burden to be around, but I know Boston Med and Tufts are pretty OK with this - don't know about MGH because I truthfully never even looked into volunteering at MGH.</p>

<p>I agree it's hard to get active patient exposure at the premed level, and I think 70% of the premeds don't actually have any such clinical experience before med school, despite the two guidelines I laid out for you earlier. I've heard of people who work in nursing homes and hospices that have better luck with this aspect, however. And even though med schools look for these two criteria in your volunteer work, you still need to be able to articulate why you are doing these volunteer work. I mean, if you don't feel connected at all with what you're doing, you might as well do something else that you care more about that you can talk about at length even if they might not fulfill these two criteria.</p>

<p>In spite of this, however, I don't think finding direct patient interaction is impossible - see, even this summer I'm working at a branch in a med school in NYC which focuses on immigrant health, and I call cancer patients on the phone (or visit them in the waiting room) to see whether they have any needs that we can help them apply to grants for (e.g. food assistance, transportation subsidy, treatment compensation...etc) and I'm not even working in a real hospital per se (the office is attached to a hospital, but this is more like social work). The most important thing is for you to 1) see clinical work before you apply so you know what working in a hospital is like (you can do this through shadowing for volunteering in places in the ER) and 2) having exposure to patients (so you know what the current challenges of health care are, and ascertain that you would be okay with working with patients on a long term basis). For me, interpreting fulfills both 1) and 2), but I also have many friends who volunteer in the ER, fulfilling 1), and then work at a hospice, which satisfies 2) and also some of 1).</p>

<p>So at Cambridge Alliance when I wasn't interpreting (and truthfully there wasn't that many Mandarin patients), I just did basic work, so yes, like answering the telephone, running errands and such. This is also why I transferred to Tufts ASAP because there's more interpreting work there. </p>

<p>Lastly I guess don't be afraid of calling places up and seeing whether they have opportunities that aren't listed on the website. I was going to work in a hospice which didn't advertise any volunteer positions but was told that there was plenty of work there and I should go by if I want to talk about volunteering there on the phone (I never did because I became too busy ><") so yeah. Also, try to find something that you really care about doing. As much as I won't deny that being a premed is like having a checklist of items that you need to tick off before you go to med school, eventually becoming a doctor also genuinely means serving your patients and providing health care, which is something you, in the least corny way that you can imagine me saying this to you, have to be passionate about.</p>