We have all heard about the importance of volunteer experience as a premed student. But sometimes your busy schedule gets in the way and all of a sudden it’s time to apply and you have zero to little volunteer hours.
This can be discouraging when you hear about all the students who have 100s of hours.
Getting right to the point:
You can get into medical school with little to no volunteer experience. However, there will have to be something else on your application that makes up for the lack of volunteer experience. This could be something like a large amount of clinical experience combined with a high GPA and MCAT.
Hardly any med schools have a strict requirement for volunteer hours making it technically possible to get in. But volunteering is always going to be highly recommended at any school you apply to.
Now that you know you can get in, let’s discuss volunteering as it applies to med school and possible alternatives.
Is Volunteering Important For Medical School?
Yes, it is.
Why medical schools think volunteering is important can be boiled down into 2 important reasons:
- It’s a differentiator. Med schools are becoming more and more competitive. Nowadays, a high GPA and MCAT score are not enough. Med schools expect you to do things in your community that make you more unique than the average applicant.
- Shows that you enjoy helping people. Med schools are looking to produce doctors who are compassionate and genuinely enjoy helping people. After all, our generation will be the ones taking care of admission’s committee’s in their old age!
Both of these factors are easily achieved through consistent volunteering. However, there are other things you could be doing if you lack the volunteer hours that meet these standards. Including paid extracurriculars like being a scribe or an EMT.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t volunteer, it’s still highly recommended, but you aren’t completely out of luck if you don’t.
Clinical Vs Non-Clinical Volunteering
A lot of students emphasize the difference between clinical and non-clinical volunteering. There’s this idea out there that you need both types of volunteer experience to be competitive.
This is simply not true.
There is a purpose for clinical exposure and there is a purpose for volunteer hours. Clinical exposure is important because it demonstrates that you have real-life experience with medicine and you know what you are getting into. Volunteering demonstrates that you enjoy helping others.
If you end up volunteering at a hospital or clinic, you are kind of killing two birds with one stone. But you can fulfill the clinical experience with any kind of medically related job.
How Many Volunteer Hours Do You Need For Pre-med?
Most schools are not going to require volunteer hours for admission. However, almost every school highly recommends you have volunteer hours.
Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you have around 100 hours of volunteering before applying to med school.
If you don’t have 100 hours, don’t stress out. You can still get in. You just need to make sure there are other areas of your application that make you look really good.
I got into med school with less than 100 hours of volunteering. I think I had somewhere around 30 hours. It’s not that I didn’t care about volunteering, I just simply didn’t have the time.
I spent the first 2 years of college goofing off and had to make up that time in my last 2 years.
For a more in-depth analysis of this topic, check out our post on how many volunteer hours a premed student needs!
Do Medical Schools Verify Volunteer Hours?
No, medical schools do not verify or screen your listed volunteer experiences. However, if they suspect you are lying about something, they might check it out.
You never want to be caught lying to a medical school admissions team. This will hurt your application.
Think of it like taxes. You can get away with fudging some numbers that aren’t too big. However, if something looks suspicious, you could be audited which is a painful ordeal.
Don’t lie about your volunteer hours, it’s not worth it.
What Do I Say If I Don’t Have Any Volunteer Experience?
If you don’t have any volunteer experience, there isn’t much you can say besides the truth. Hopefully, you have a legitimate reason.
For example, maybe you have a family to support, you work 2 jobs, and you simply can’t afford to do free labor. This is a legitimate reason and this is exactly what you should tell an interviewer.
Think about why you didn’t volunteer at all. If it’s something that a normal person would find reasonable, that is what you should tell a med school.
Does High School Volunteering Count For Med School?
This depends on a few factors:
- Did you volunteer at the same institution in high school as well as college? If this is the case then you should add those high school volunteer hours to your college volunteer gig.
- Did you volunteer a significant amount of hours in high school? If you volunteered for 200 or more hours in high school, this is a significant amount and should count for your med school volunteering.
Is There Still Time For You To Find A Volunteer Experience?
Before you apply to med school with little to no volunteer hours, really ask yourself if there is still time to volunteer before applying.
Do you have 3 or more months before the application cycle starts? Start volunteering somewhere right away to gain additional hours.
Is a gap year completely out of the question for you? Gap years can be an awesome opportunity to gain valuable experiences that look great on your med school application. In the grand scheme of things, pushing back med school entrance by one year is not a big deal.