When you discuss your voluntary experience in your interview, it’s a good idea to focus on what’s the most relevant. For example, learning to work with a varied team imitates the multi-disciplinary teamwork you’ll see in healthcare.
Because it’s necessary to consider a patient from many perspectives, including emotional and lifestyle needs, and not just medical management, you should think about interpersonal skills too. For example, you might want to talk about how you developed patience, or how you followed and gave instruction effectively, or managed time appropriately, or showed empathy, and so on.
Ultimately, most prospective Medics will develop similar skills no matter their voluntary experience – and interviewers will hear generic answers. To set yourself apart, be specific and use examples, which will also demonstrate consideration and reflection.
For example, if you volunteered at a youth programme and had to deal with a loud and disruptive child, that can become a really relevant experience. You could say: “Initially I was trying to calm the child, but it wasn’t working and I knew I had reached the limits of my capacity. I spoke to a member of the team and we decided to move other children away from the situation to avoid harm. I’ve thought about this since, and I now realise the importance of different areas of skill within a team and being able to recognise the limits of my practice.”
Interviewers don’t just want to know about the triumphs you faced: they want to know how you react when things go wrong. They also want to see that if a mistake happens, you can learn from this and avoid repeating it. It’s a great chance to demonstrate personal insight.
For example, during my placement, I first found it hard to communicate with younger children. If I was asked about this at my interview, I’d say “I tried speaking to the child and giving instruction, but they were not responsive. This led to confusion and they didn’t follow my instruction. I spoke to my group leader and considered the individual needs of the child, and adapted my approach. The next time, I was able to communicate more effectively with them.”
I am sure that in your time volunteering you have experienced some rewarding moments. But humility in Medicine is vital and we must remember that we all contribute to the team’s effort. Reflect upon what went well, such as your patience or clear communication, but also acknowledge how you can improve. Do not become complacent and do not single-handedly claim responsibility for the success of your team.
Volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates great compassion and a genuine desire to help. At your interview, you can discuss how your volunteering adapted during the pandemic yet how you remained comfortable and safe yourself – or how you took the initiative to help people at the peak of the crisis.
Just remember to focus on what you learnt from this and don’t use it as an opportunity to virtue-signal, or you won’t stand out.
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