When you discuss voluntary experience in your Medical School interview, it’s a good idea to focus on what is most relevant to a career in Medicine. For example, did volunteering teach you anything valuable about teamwork, communication or empathy?
Because it’s necessary to consider patients from many perspectives, including emotional and lifestyle needs (not just medical management), you should think about your interpersonal skills. You might want to talk about how volunteering helped you to improve your patience, time management skills, ability to follow instructions, etc.
To set yourself apart, be specific when talking about your voluntary experience. Use examples to demonstrate consideration and reflection. This will help you to avoid giving generic answers that the Medical School interviewers have heard many times before.
For example, if you volunteered at a youth programme and had to deal with a loud and disruptive child, this could be a relevant experience to discuss. You could say: “Initially I was trying to calm the child down, 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 skills within a team and being able to recognise the limits of my practice.”
Interviewers don’t just want to know about your triumphs: 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, if you found it hard to communicate with a child during a placement, you could say: “I tried speaking to the child and giving instructions, but they were not responsive. This led to confusion and they didn’t follow my instructions. I spoke to my group leader who encouraged me to consider the individual needs of the child, and I adapted my approach. The next time, I was able to communicate more effectively with them.”
In your time spent volunteering, you probably experienced some rewarding moments. But humility in Medicine is vital and you must remember that many people contribute to a team’s success.
Reflect on what you did well, such as patience or clear communication, but also acknowledge how others helped and how you can still continue to improve in the future. Don’t become complacent and don’t single-handedly claim responsibility for the success of your team.
Volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates compassion and a genuine desire to help. If you took the initiative to help people during the pandemic, whether this was in-person or remote volunteering, this is something very relevant to bring up at your Medical School interview.
Just remember to focus on what you learned from the experience, link it to pursuing Medicine and don’t use it as an opportunity to boast.
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