Today I want to talk about volunteering; if you don’t already know, you have to do it! You can’t prove you want to be a doctor if you don’t devote your very limited time to patients without expecting anything in return. I don’t think you should do it just because your application requires it though; it’s a great experience and you can learn so much from others! It’s very humbling and completely addicting; I want to volunteer for the rest of my life. 🙂
According to the medical school in my state, you need a minimum of 36 hours in the past four years, and an average of 48 hours during each of the 4 years prior to attending medical school. If you think it sounds like a lot, relax! It’s not a lot and it’s definitely not hard. At the beginning of 2013, I had at least 250 hours; I’m probably over 400 hours by now, but I haven’t checked the school records lately. I’ll let you know when I find out!
So let me tell you what I do for volunteering!
I started volunteering at an animal shelter back in 2010, helping them clean after the cats at a pet store while they wait to get adopted. In 2012, when a new store opened, I became in charge of the cats at that store. I was cleaning up after them every day and I was in charge of the adoptions. Besides cleaning up, loving on them, and playing with them, I get to switch out the cats once they’ve been at the store for too long. It’s fun going in to see the kitties at the shelter; we have a big cat room where all our kitties run around. If you ever feel down, all you have to do is walk into that room! You’re immediately surrounded by a ton of cats ready to love on you!
As of January of this year, my responsibilities only include taking care of the cats at the store twice a week. I don’t work, and the store is half an hour away from my house, so I couldn’t afford the gas anymore. Taking O-Chem and having to study 24/7 didn’t help either, but I didn’t quit doing it. We found some other volunteers to take care of the cats during the week and I take care of them on Fridays and Saturdays. I still get to do adoptions, answer questions about the cats, and switch them out when they’ve been there too long or get sick. The adoptions are my favorite thing to do though; it’s a very happy day when an animal finds a forever home! And yes, I AM an animal lover. 🙂
Even though I’m volunteering with animals, you CAN learn a lot about people. I think I mentioned it on my first post, but you have to learn how to read people when you’re doing adoptions; you need to make sure you don’t put the animals in a dangerous situation. You also have to learn to deal with rude customers and make sure you don’t lose your temper. This can be really hard to do, but I think it’s something that doctors need to master. Not surprisingly, I learned that the hard way.
I was doing an adoption of a cute little kitten to a young woman. She was very sweet and had lost her pet recently, so she was looking for something else to love. She had brought her mother-in-law, who was crying hysterically. She was in such pain that she would yell at her husband and daughter-in-law because it took too long to sign the paperwork; it doesn’t take more than five minutes. I told the future cat owner that she needed something to keep the kitten in while in the car, so she said she was going to buy a kennel. I let her know that we could try to get her a box from the back of the store so she didn’t have to spend money on it. She needed to buy a carrier anyway, so she went to look for one when her mother-in-law started telling her it was a waste money. I didn’t want the mother-in-law yelling at her, so I went to ask one of the store managers to grab a box from the back. He thought I was talking about one of the boxes you can buy for $10, and when he mentioned it, the mother-in-law went ballistic. She started complaining about being over-charged for the kitten; she was $75, which is a donation to our shelter that covers the cost of the vaccines, microchip, and spaying of the kitten. After about five minutes of heated discussion, the manager said he wasn’t charging her for the cat; I was, since I’m the rep for the shelter.
I’ve never had someone yell at me and treat me so badly that I was afraid of my physical well=being. She started yelling about how horrible we were for charging her daughter-in-law so much and that they could go somewhere else to adopt a cat for free; they didn’t need to give me their business. This continued for a good ten minutes while everyone in the store stopped and stared. When I finally got a word in, I tried to explain to her that I was trying to get her a free box from the back; I then turned to the manager and asked him if he could grab one. Her husband and daughter-in-law were mortified, apologizing over and over and saying she had no right to yell at me. The daughter-in-law was almost in tears, but I knew she would give the cat a great home, so I assured her that I wouldn’t deny the adoption. A few minutes later, they left the store. The lady never apologized, but she was pretty happy by the time they left the store with a brand-new kitten.
The whole time I was being yelled at, I was panicking on the inside. I suffer from panic attacks, and having someone treat me the way she did was definitely a trigger. However, there was only one thing going through my mind; I don’t know if that’s the way she normally is. She wasn’t acting that way because she was a horrible person; she was acting that way because she was hurt by the loss of their pet. I knew it wouldn’t help to yell at her, so instead I tried to comfort her and let her know I understood why she was angry; I reassured her that I wasn’t trying to over-charge her. I explained where the money adopted fee went and that I didn’t think they should be charged for a box, which is why I was getting one that had been used to hold canned dog food. It was a very hard situation, but I felt that I handled it very professionally, never raising my voice at her.
I don’t know what it’s going to be like dealing with patients or their families, but I imagine that at some point someone will feel the need to yell at me out of desperation. The most important thing is to not take it personally and to keep calm; yelling at them or trying to prove them wrong won’t solve anything and will make it worse. If it does happen, I hope I can recall this incident and remind myself to keep calm; yelling never solves anything.
That’s probably the most intense thing I’ve learned from volunteering at the shelter. I don’t think I would’ve had a chance to learn this anywhere else, so I’m thankful for the experience.
I also volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters, but I’m using those for a different area of my application, so I’ll write about that experience in a different post. 🙂 I also volunteer at a hospice, but I’ve been using that for my patient exposure. You might read about that in a future “Volunteering” post though, since I’m starting a CNA program on Monday and I hope to use my future job experience as my patient exposure instead. I’ll let you know in a few months. 🙂
Let me know if there’s anything else you want to know about my volunteering! Keep in mind that variety is important, so it’s a good idea to have different experiences with different organizations. Make sure you have one you’ve volunteered with consistently for at least a year; my advisor says medical schools like people who are committed.
I’m thinking about posting about what I do every time I volunteer, but there’s not much variety in them, so it might get a little boring. You learn something knew every day though, so it might be cool to write down one thing I’ve learned from every experience. Guess we’ll see. 🙂
Wish me luck!