An appropriate volunteering experience is vital for medical school applications. Admissions tutors are not just looking for good grades, they also want students who can talk passionately about the connections they’ve made with people with a range of medical conditions.
Over the past ten years, the intergenerational charity Kissing it Better has offered thousands of students the chance to volunteer in a variety of health and social care settings. Our model works by training teams of young people to understand how best to engage with the people they meet; from patients and care home residents, to visitors or staff. Students who volunteer with us must plan their visits, either individually or as a team, to ensure everyone gains the maximum benefit from the experience. The most successful projects happen when teachers share the students’ enthusiasm, often volunteering alongside them, especially when they first start.
When Covid stopped us going into healthcare buildings, we had to adapt our model. Students with performing skills moved their music sessions to outside the windows of long-stay wards and care homes. This simple change offered those trapped inside so much more than just entertainment; it sent a powerful message that they had not been forgotten. We also set up hundreds of supervised Zoom sessions so students could chat to care home residents and learn from their stories.
Experienced teachers already know the best volunteering settings in their area. They also know that the students who stand out at interview are those who can demonstrate commitment in a range of healthcare environments. Students who start volunteering early have two advantages:
Schools that put social responsibility at the heart of what they do produce the best results. All volunteering is valuable, but a member of staff who is passionate about good volunteering – and who knows what medical schools are looking for – is likely to create the best opportunities. If time is set aside in the timetable to make this happen, overstretched students will feel more relaxed about what is expected of them.
Spending time with people living with a range of physical and mental illnesses helps students develop empathy. It rapidly improves their communication skills and shows they have the necessary grit and determination for life in a caring profession. Healthcare volunteering also has a positive effect on students’ mental health: doing something valuable makes them feel valued too.
Good teachers love to hear and share inspirational stories from students who feel they’ve made a difference. By encouraging young people to learn from each other, teachers can broaden students’ insight and understanding.
It can be hard for students to know what is a ‘good’ volunteering experience. Encouraging them and guiding them to keep a ‘volunteering log’ will help them evidence the skills they’ve gained when facing a medical school interview.
The expectation placed on those hoping to go to medical school can be overwhelming, so having someone with appropriate experience to guide them to the best opportunities can make a huge difference too.
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