As more schools adopt competency-based admissions and learning, service has become an even more important component of a student’s application. Schools want to know that you have a true commitment to serve the community. One way that you can demonstrate this is by community service activities. These activities can be clinical, such as volunteering at the local hospital or clinic, but they do not have to be. Volunteering at a hospital may be considered clinical experience, not community service, depending on what your position is. Community service is more than philanthropy through your fraternity or sorority. It involves actually getting out into the community and interacting with a diversity of people whose background may be different from your own. Your community service should be a learning opportunity for you.
There are many opportunities for service: working with the disabled, at a nursing home, tutoring at an underserved school,or helping out in the soup kitchen or homeless shelter, etc.
How much service is enough? Most schools do not specify a specific number of hours that should be devoted to service, or even the number of different service experiences in which you should engage. However, some do. For example, Rush Medical College has a minimum requirement of 150 hours of community service plus 150 hours of healthcare exposure. If you are considering PA school, be aware that you will be required to have 1000-2000 hours of patient care time before applying. Most volunteer service activities don’t count towards these hours.
It is better to show real commitment to a single service activity, rather than try to accumulate a number of service activities to which you have devoted just a few hours. It’s not just about checking off the service box on your application. It is about truly making a difference and being able to communicate in what way the experience has changed you.
When should you become involved in service? It is never too soon. Once you have established yourself at college and are comfortable academically, it is time to start thinking about other experiences that will enrich your life, and thus make you a more competitive applicant. Summers are an ideal time to engage in service, particularly if you are not working at a job, but don’t forget that it is important to maintain balance. Don’t focus on service to the exclusion of other important parts of the college experience.
How do you know where to volunteer? A good start is at one of the local hospitals – Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, or Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. Contact the volunteer coordinator. It often takes some time to get a volunteer position at the hospital, so contact them well before you hope to start.
The Wake Forest Volunteer Service Corps is a student-run organization whose mission is to serve the community by linking Wake Forest students, faculty and staff with service opportunities in the community. You can join the VSC and be a part of this effort, or take advantage of the list they have of community partners who need volunteers. The list can be found at http://vsc.groups.wfu.edu/off-campus-partners/.
What about mission trips? Is that a good way to accumulate service experience? It depends. Choose your trip wisely. You don’t want to go for a week to a developing country where you are either asked to be involved in medical procedures for which you are not trained, or that are simply opportunities to see another country with no meaningful service component.