Albert Einstein once said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Serving your community can be one of the most rewarding experiences that you have throughout your journey of becoming a dentist. Finding volunteer opportunities that contribute to your community and fulfill your interests is an important part of shaping yourself as a dental school applicant. As an active volunteer, I have found these pieces of advice to be most valuable when deciding how to get involved in the community.
- The benefits of volunteering. Aside from having the opportunity to serve your community, you will also gain valuable experiences and insights that will make great talking points during the interview process. Volunteering enables you to learn new skills and demonstrate your leadership capabilities. Despite what many students believe, the positions you choose do not necessarily have to be in the dental field. Creating a diverse set of volunteer experiences will allow you to become a more well-rounded individual. By choosing activities that you’re passionate about, volunteering is a great source for networking and can be an enjoyable study break!
- Finding volunteer positions. The ASDA website as well as your school’s predental club are great places to begin looking for different ideas. Mission of Mercy and Smiles on Wheels are events that allow volunteers to help the underserved population in their communities. Participating in dental related mission work is a great way to explore the career, however there are many opportunities outside of dentistry to help your community, such as serving at a local food bank, walking dogs at the shelter or setting up a blood drive. If you’re passionate about an activity you are involved in, create a Facebook page and get others to join the cause!
- Things to consider before you volunteer. Before getting involved, it is important to determine what you wish to gain from your volunteer experience so you’ll have reasonable expectations and can set attainable goals for yourself. It can be tempting to over-commit, however setting aside sufficient time dedicated to scholastic activities as well as your volunteer activities will create balance in your schedule. Being a reliable volunteer is imperative! Dedication and time management are two important characteristics that can be highlighted through an applicant’s volunteer history. While some schools may require a specific number of service hours, it is important to stay genuinely involved in your activities. Don’t become engrossed in the amount of hours you need to fulfill, instead focus on how you are able to help others through your activities.
- Quality over quantity. This cannot be emphasized enough! Picking a few activities that you can stay genuinely involved in over time will be more fulfilling and meaningful than sporadic commitments. It is helpful to create a Word document to record your hours and reflect on your volunteer experiences. This will enable you to draw from personal experiences you’ve had when it comes time to fill out your application for dental school. This small task will set you apart from other applicants through your ability to recall specific details such as how your activities have shaped you and what you enjoyed most about the experience.
Visit ASDA’s website for information on volunteer opportunities.
~Katie Richardson, Mississippi College ’14, Predental Advisory Committee member