What you may not realize is that you can volunteer virtually anywhere (although in hospitals and clinics this can be limited).
You’ll find that few people turn down the offer of free help. And it is in here that lies the real power of volunteerism.
Take a look at this timeless 2011 TED talk by Charlie Hoehn author of The Recession-Proof Graduate - How to Land The Job You Want by Doing FREE WORK (FREE download)
Four tips to get started today
- Make a list of ten jobs that interest you. Keep in mind that these don’t need to be in the same field; it’s perfectly OK if you have Physician Assistant, chemist and pastry chef on the same list.
- For each of those ten jobs, identify someone you know who may know someone in that profession. You can ask your friends, your parents, or your professors. If you still can’t find someone, post a status update on Facebook or Twitter asking if anyone knows anyone who works in your particular area of interest.
- Through your network, build a list of people who work in the jobs that interest you.
- Send each person an email offering to volunteer.
- If this doesn't work, try Volunteer Match.
Here is an email template you can use:
I want to stress the fact that it is important to have volunteer experiences in multiple fields.
Yes, it is important to have shadowed a Physician Assistant and to have a clear understanding of what a PA does. But it is equally important to know your alternatives. This will build a strong case for why you want to be a PA.
When you are asked, “Why do you want to be a PA?” This is the perfect opportunity to detail your list of previous volunteer experiences. And these experiences are like the concrete that will form the foundation of your passion for being a PA.
My personal history of volunteerism
When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to volunteer through my county’s local waste management department who was starting a new program to teach the in’s and outs of recycling to central California schoolchildren.
This volunteer job was not on my radar, but when my high school science teacher approached me about the position, I said yes.
It took a lot of time and hard work, but I learned to speak in front of large groups, collaborate effectively with a team, let my guard down, be more silly and let my creative side loose.
The big surprise came at my high school graduation ceremony when I was presented with a $3000 scholarship to help fund my first year of college. Totally unexpected!
During the same period, I began helping an older gentleman, Mr. Craig, doing work for him and his wife around their home. They had an acre of land to care for, and Mr. Craig taught me to plant crops, dig ditches for water irrigation, clean gutters, prune trees, wash windows, help fix a carburetor and pretty much anything else you could imagine.
Mr. Craig referred me to two other families who needed work done at their homes. I would do everything from house cleaning to plumbing to basic meal preparation and even on occasions, childcare.
Before I knew it, I was in high demand, and although I didn't realize it at the time, this was my first small business.
This all came about through the simple act of helping
In college, I met an undergrad who worked in the campus health clinic. She was confident, pre-med and the on-site phlebotomist. She was also the only student working in a hands-on position at the clinic.
The minute I saw what she did I said: “I will do that someday.” So I took a job working in the basement in medical records. I also started volunteering at the UW hospital doing patient transport and any other task that would get me closer to the holy grail of “real patient contact."
I worked in medical records for 1.5 years and volunteered for three years at the hospital while taking classes at the University of Washington. When that premed phlebotomist left her post for medical school, she trained me to take her place.
From there I met people who would define my future career in medicine. Including a retired doctor from India who would teach me the art of calming a frightened patient, and the father of a Dali Lama (I kid you not) who would teach me the importance of humor, smiles and taking life a little less seriously.
Adventures often lie in unexpected places
(Photo: my son at six months trying something new)
Every time I have let my guard down I am pleasantly surprised. It is the only way to live life to the fullest. There are so many opportunities out there, but to get to them you are going to have to swallow some pride, roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty.
My last volunteer position before PA school brought me to the grounds of Seattle Parks, and Recreations Special Needs Youth Summer Camp. We provided 24-hour care for children with disabilities.
The severity of the disabilities ranged from the mild (Down’s Syndrome) to the more severe (Angelman Syndrome, disabling cerebral palsy, profound autism). It was a defining point in my education to be a PA. Because it is in these raw, real life moments, that humanity truly exposes itself.
In these occasions, we are forced to come to terms with life's inequalities and see the beauty in all of God’s creations. It was here, at this small summer camp in the woods, that I became a bit more human.
And to be a good PA you need to be more human, and less textbook
My dad, a lifetime educator, has always told me that:
"life's true education begins when school ends."
And he is right. You can expedite this process by beginning your life education during school. And I would encourage you to wait not a second longer.
Opportunities to grow are on the other side of any current situation you find yourself in. You just have to open your window and let the light in!