Many med school applicants volunteer for the sake of volunteering. They do it to write on their CV. They do it because everyone else is doing it. They volunteer because they believe it is what they should be doing. To all the volunteers with this mentality, “You’re wasting your time.”
When I use the term volunteering in this post, I am describing the many extracurricular activities people pursue. It can be helping out at the soup kitchen, spending time with residents at a nursing home, tutoring ESL students. Any item on a typical premed laundry list. Now I understand that there are many instances where volunteering has a tremendous impact – running into a burning house to save a life, performing the Heimlich maneuver, forming a search party for missing individuals. I am not talking about these brave acts of volunteerism. I am talking about plain old, “I volunteer at a hospital, giving directions, providing drinks and warm blankets to patients, handling paper work.”
The main criteria of volunteering is that one offers an act of service without pay. So whether you’re a big brother/sister, a child care volunteer, doing data entry, coach of a sports team, playing piano for your church, communicating with dialysis patients, helping out in an African orphanage, you’re all doing this free of charge. The problem with the majority of volunteering activities is that they do not offer any valuable service. The easiest way to determine if you’re volunteering is worth anything, ask yourself, “how much would someone pay for me to do my job?” For the majority of cases: absolutely nothing.
There would be no difference if a volunteer disappeared, most organizations would still be functional. The hospitals would run just fine, perhaps maybe even better without all the confusion, training and interruptions of volunteers. Some will argue that teaching English to third-world children is valuable, English tutors are expensive! I would agree with you too, except for the fact that you cannot teach someone English in a week, a month, a summer or even a year. When you decide to give up several years of your life teaching English for free in a foreign country, I will change my mind. If you were a cardiovascular surgeon volunteering to do heart transplants for free, you are making a difference. For the majority of people who volunteer for the sake of doing it, the volunteering you do has no value.
Money is power. It allows people to buy useful goods and services. Volunteering does not generate any money, which leads to the point that volunteering is not self-sustaining. People cannot work for free forever, we all have bills to pay, necessities to buy. Eventually, funding will have to be brought in from somewhere. Even charity staff are paid for their work. Furthermore, if you’re motivation for volunteering is to put it on your CV, as a resume padder, you will hate your job. You will be emotionally drained. You are better off not volunteering at all.
So am I against volunteering? Absolutely not. Volunteering has a lot of good merits and I believe people should volunteer. Medical schools will look favourable on volunteer experiences. What I want to get across is to volunteer for the right reasons. Volunteering won’t change the world, but volunteering will change you. You will learn and grow with your experiences and hopefully, you can go on afterwards to change the world.
[Article coming soon: How to make the most of your Volunteering]