Have you ever helped someone else? I mean truly helped them? Do you remember what that felt like? For me, it has always been an unforgettable experience. One of the main reasons I wanted to become a physician is to help other people achieve better health. Yes I knows this sounds cliche. We have all read a personal statement proclaiming “I want to help other people”, but sometimes the answer is really that simple.
Volunteering was always a constant part of my life. My father served in the military for over 20 years and my family often had to make sacrifices to live the military lifestyle. We moved over five times during my childhood but I would not have had it any other way. I was always shown how my father’s service was helping others and from these experiences, I began to understand more and more about serving the community around me and even more about myself.
This is one important reason to volunteer: You can get to know yourself better as a person and grow from volunteering experiences. One of my favorite quotes is from JRR Tolkein as it says “It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door, you step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” I love this quote because it directly relates to a medical journey. For me, volunteering taught me to appreciate the things I take for granted in life. Volunteering showed me what I do and do not like to devote my effort to – good and bad. I was not being paid or required to be there and nevertheless I enjoyed myself. Giving back helped me discover my love for elderly populations and Geriatrics through hospice volunteering. I was able to form relationships with people that were often isolated in the nursing home and I would otherwise never meet. I began to appreciate more about my circumstances by interacting with those with greater needs than mine.
Another great reason to volunteer is to learn more about the world around you. Volunteering can teach you more about things that you are inexperienced with such as different cultures, foreign languages, and other skills. First hand conversations with various groups can change your world views and help you develop new solutions to everyday problems. We always see societal problems on television and in the media, and many volunteer programs attempt to alleviate poverty, save the environment, or raise money for scientific research. When you faithfully volunteer you get to be apart of that process. Serving in these areas and many more, can give you a behind-the-scenes look into the issues that plague our society. Issues often become more real when witnessed up-close and volunteers can benefit from new learned experiences.
In addition to new relationships and perspective, continuous and dedicated service can help you develop new skill sets. Just because it is unpaid work, does not mean you are not learning new things in a team environment, planning, and organizing your schedule. You often have to be on time, coordinate events, and perform other duties often associated with a job when volunteering. This is why jobs are starting to look more and more about resumes that include volunteering. An education is essential and unique skills awesome, but volunteer work is now related to professionalism as many employers look at it almost as another type of job experience. When you volunteer, you might come away from the experience knowing how to do something new! For example, teaching underserved children in a classroom could help future teachers learn more about child learning and what is efficient in a classroom. Similarly, I volunteered with homeless populations to understand more about at-risk patient populations and what their health needs are. Overall, there are so many volunteering agencies now, that you can acquire almost any skill you want as a volunteer while simultaneously making an impact. In all, service can change how you interact with others, build leadership skills, and shows you care about making a change.
Ultimately, if you aren’t currently volunteering, look into getting involved with a cause you care about. Not only can you find out more about yourself, build skills, and learn more about other groups, but the altruistic benefits are worth it. Try committing to volunteering even just once a month and then decide which groups are right for you. I personally enjoyed hospice volunteering, teaching, and medically related services. To find out more about volunteering visit these sites to get an idea of how you can help you community:
- www.volunteermatch.org/: A great database based on location and interests
- Change.org: Many petitions for chnage are available here
- http://www.womenoncall.org/: This organization is specfically for professional women
- http://www.idealist.org/: There are even jobs & internships on this site
- http://www.projects-abroad.org/: Looking to help internationally?
- http://www.networkforgood.com/: Online funding management tools & software
When serving others, you can often meet a need. There are needs everywhere that need to be met; even in your backyard. There are so many reasons to volunteer; many of them being personal and nevertheless the impact of volunteers is appreciated. For this reason, volunteering beyond your medical school and pharmacy school application time is worthwhile, developing, and rewarding.
Tell us in the comments about where you volunteer and why. We love to feature stories from time to time and may reach out to you. Thank you for all you do!