As more schools adopt competency-based admissions and learning, service has become an even more important component of a student’s application. Medical schools want to know that you have a true commitment to serve the community. One way that you can demonstrate this is by service activities. These activities can be clinical, such as volunteering at the local hospital or clinic, but they do not have to be. There are many opportunities for service: working with the disabled, at a nursing home, in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
There is no specific number of hours that should be devoted to service, or even a number of different service experiences you should engage in. But it is better to show real commitment to a single service activity, rather than try to accumulate a number of service activities to which you have devoted just a few hours. And it’s not just about checking off the service box on your application. It is about truly making a difference, and being able to communicate in what way the experience has changed you.
When should you become involved in service? It is never too soon. Once you have established yourself at college and are comfortable academically, it is time to start thinking about other experiences that will enrich your life, and thus make you a more competitive applicant. Summers are an ideal time to engage in service, particularly if you are not working at a job. But don’t forget that it is important to maintain balance. Don’t focus on service to the exclusion of other important parts of the college experience.
How do you know where to volunteer? A good start is at one of the local hospitals – Wake Forest Baptist Hospital or Forsyth Hospital. Contact the volunteer coordinator; it often takes some time to get a volunteer position at the hospital, so contact them well before you hope to start.
The Wake Forest Volunteer Service Corps is a student-run organization whose mission is to serve the community by linking Wake Forest students, faculty, and staff with service opportunities in the community. You can join the VSC and be a part of this effort, or take advantage of the list they have of community partners who need volunteers. The list can be found at (http://vsc.groups.wfu.edu/off-campus-partners/).
What about mission trips? Is that a good way to accumulate service experience? It depends. Choose your trip wisely. You don’t want to go for a week to a developing country where you are either asked to be involved in medical procedures for which you are not trained, or that are simply opportunities to see another country, with no meaningful service component.
Think about keeping a service/shadowing journal. Take note of the things that move you, or how an experience has changed you, or has opened your eyes in some way. This will be very helpful when it comes time to apply to medical school.