Volunteering: Getting Connected to Health Care
One of the best ways to learn more about a profession or career is to "try it on for size." Volunteering allows you to observe people who are health care providers and to connect with health care clients. Many health care programs require their applicants to document volunteer or paid experience in health care for admission. Community service and teaching or tutoring are valuable ways to learn more about leadership and diversity, and clarify personal values, assumptions, and responsibilities.
Step 1: Think Before You Act
- Is there a particular issue, topic, population you want to be involved with?
- What type of environment would you prefer? Most of your volunteer work will be done locally, but think about the opportunity to volunteer on a global scale.
- How much time do you have to volunteer?
- How will you get to your volunteer site?
- How could this experience contribute to what you're learning in the classroom and to your personal and career goals?
- Are you considering an international volunteering experience? If so, be sure to review the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Guidelines for Premedical and Medical Students Providing Patient Care During Clinical Experiences Abroad.
Step 2: Find the Facility That Works Best for You
There are many excellent facilities in the Seattle Metro area and you should explore as many options as possible before making a decision. Health care facilities might include a medical center or large hospital, community clinic, family planning center, hospice, or long-term care facility. Community service sites are everywhere. Look at food banks, shelters, after-school programs, support groups for people with illnesses (like the Lifelong AIDS Alliance or The American Cancer Society) or disabilities. Schools, summer camps, recreation programs, and youth groups can give you teaching and leadership experience.
The University of Washington's Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center (120 Mary Gates Hall) can connect you to internships, service learning, tutoring, and volunteer opportunities.
The Pipeline Project provides tutoring and mentoring to elementary, middle and high school students in our area. Jumpstart, an early childhood education group, works with UW students to provide mentors for low-income preschool children in order to build their language skills.
The King County web page's health link has listings of area hospitals and clinics. The Yellow Pages have quite a few listings under Clinics, Hospitals, and Nursing Care. United Way of King County has an extensive list of volunteer opportunities.
Step 3: Find Out What They Expect from You
Contact the facility or organization you're interested in. Many places have web sites that will tell you how to contact them and what they are looking for. If you don't have that information, call the facility and ask to be connected to the volunteer coordinator. Before you make a commitment you should visit the facility and talk to the coordinator about expectations for volunteers. A well-prepared volunteer applicant will present a printed goal statement and resume of previous work and volunteer experience and dress and act professionally.
Step 4: Understand the Limitations of Volunteering
- Most health care facilities start volunteers out doing things like pushing patients in wheelchairs to X-Ray or the lab, delivering flowers, taking specimens to the lab, helping patients with meals, or doing routine office work. Ask what jobs are available.
- If you have a choice, ask for a job that allows you to observe the interaction of health care professionals with patients rather than an office assignment where you will have little patient contact.
- You should never be asked to do something that requires special training; nor should you ever assume that you are able do more than you've been asked to do.
- Often you'll find that you'll be allowed to do and see more after you've been at the site for a few months and demonstrated that you are trustworthy and reliable.
Step 5: Make It Matter
At its best, volunteering is an opportunity for you to explore and evaluate a career area as well as experience the world in a new way. You can seek out volunteer sites that will connect you to people and situations that may be new to you. Volunteering is a way to develop your innate compassion and caring for others.
There are several ways to build on your volunteer experience.
- Create a portfolio to document your learning. Keep examples of the volunteer work you do, such as a log of your hours and a description of what you did, reports or projects you completed, photos of students you've tutored.
- Keep a journal where you record your experiences and insights. This helps you think critically about what you're observing and experiencing.