If you’re applying for med school then you need volunteering hours. Without them, you just don’t stand a chance.
Being educated in the U.S., you’ve most likely heard of the Red Cross. One of the country’s biggest volunteer organizations, they stand out as being a good first point of contact.
But, is Red Cross volunteering good for med school?
Yes. The Red Cross is a very organized and professional institution that can offer great exposure to healthcare careers. It’s diverse and can offer important clinical experience to pre meds, while the networking opportunities also make it worthwhile.
But it’s also largely dependent on regional/local operations. Each with varying levels of involvement in their respective communities.
So it may not always be “the best” volunteering experience you can get for med school!
In this article, we’ll explore a little further. We’ll cover:
- What the Red Cross is
- What it offers volunteers
- If it’s clinical (and useful for med school applicants)
- How you can volunteer with them
As someone who’s spent hundreds of hours volunteering (and researching volunteering) myself, I’m confident this article can be a good guide.
Ready to get started?
What is Red Cross volunteering?
The Red Cross (or the American Red Cross) is a humanitarian organization that supports communities by providing shelters, food and emotional support to victims of disasters.
They are also involved with:
- Supplying 40% of U.S. blood (via donor drives)
- Teaching life saving skills (First Aid, CPR etc.)
- Tissue services (allografts for transplantation)
- Nucleic acid testing
- Medical research
According to their official website, volunteers carry out 90 percent of the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.
Volunteers respond to more than 62,000 disasters, help train more than 6 million people with lifesaving skills and organize 2.7 million volunteer blood donors every year.
On a local scale it is organized into chapters. Most major cities across America have local chapter headquarters coordinating community-wide response.
Is Red Cross volunteering clinical?
As the major activities of the Red Cross are disaster relief and blood donorship, most roles are non-clinical in nature for the average volunteer.
There is some debate here however.
What makes up “clinical experience”, at least in pre med applications, is something of a discussion point.
Many applicants argue that if a position involves interacting and helping patients then it is clinical by nature. Even if that means walking them to a donation point (or similar).
Where Red Cross volunteering is arguably clinical is when the positions allow:
- Direct application of First Aid to patients (after CPR or First Aid training)
- Taking blood at donor drives (usually requiring a phlebotomy certification)
- Anything else that involves you being up in close (“to smell” as LizzyM puts it) contact to patients
But that’s not to say the Red Cross’ non-clinical volunteering work is unimportant.
Adcoms like to see students applying who are altruistic in nature. If they show hours dedicated to helping out clerically, in soup kitchens, literacy volunteers etc. then that is still very valuable.
Don’t reject opportunities with the Red Cross just because they may not necessarily be clinical!
The responsibility, leadership skills and networking contacts (who could help you out with shadowing etc.) make it worth it.
How to volunteer with the Red Cross
The best way to look for volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross is to search out (and contact) local chapters in your area.
Those of you enrolled in college or University might also want to look into your schools’ integrated Red Cross programs.
Several things to get involved with include:
- Internship opportunities
- Red Cross Leadership Education and Development Rotational Program
- Red Cross Collegiate Leadership Program
You can find more information about this on the Red Cross’ University Programs page.
Tips for Red Cross volunteers (and how to make it look good for Adcoms)
To get the best out of your Red Cross placements here are a few ideas:
- Consider getting clinical training certifications (phlebotomy, EMT etc.)
- Combine volunteering with other community-based work
- Remain open-minded and diligent as a volunteer
Doing these things can open up more opportunities and make your volunteering experience more enriching (and relevant) in regards to med school.
You can prepare well by picking up a copy of the American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook as well as familiarizing yourself with the organization with other interesting reads.
Frank Ryding’s Memoirs of a Red Cross Doctor could be a great insight for interested pre meds!
Alternative (possibly better) volunteering opportunities
Not everyone will have access to Red Cross chapters locally or via their school.
You can get important med school volunteer experience via local hospital and hospice volunteering opportunities.
Many of these programs are formal, excellently organized and offer a mix of experience. Some even have dedicated shadowing programs and summer placements designed to help give you exposure (and letters of recommendation) necessary to the med school application process.
You can find an example of a list of these programs (for Los Angeles) right here.
See if there are opportunities like this in your area that you can benefit from.
How many hours of volunteering for medical school is good?
According to the American Medical Association, it should be something around 100 hours.
The conventional wisdom is that 100 hours of volunteer experience is the benchmark medical schools are looking for (Source).
For applicants impacted by the global pandemic, this is still an expectation (especially as you should have been involved in volunteering opportunities in the first couple years of school).
What kind of volunteer work for med school is best?
Clinical volunteering is definitely the most relevant but it’s very difficult to get.
Second to that, admissions boards like to see a diversity of experience (rather than hundreds of hours done in a single area).
Anything that gives you responsibilities and duties, possibly with the chance of leadership, should be prioritized above all else.
Related: No Extracurricular Activities For Med School? Here’s What To Do…
How to best log volunteer hours for medical school?
It’s best practice to keep a journal or spreadsheet tracking your hours independent of whether your volunteer insitution does or not.
This is good for two reasons:
- It gives you a reliable record
- It allows you to reflect on your experiences as you record them
That last one is doubly important for helping you put together your med school essays and give you confidence (and ideas) for your med school interviews.
Do medical schools verify volunteer hours?
I’ve written before about the danger of assuming med schools don’t verify extracurriculars – you could be one of the unlucky ones they do!
Most of the time however admissions teams are very busy. That makes verifying your exact volunteering hours very difficult. To play it safe (and not risk your chances) it’s always best to be truthful and honest with your application.
Sure, you might not be able to give an exact number of hours but at least give a ballpark. And definitely ensure you have a reliable contact who can back your statements up!
Volunteering for the Red Cross can be great for med school. Especially if the opportunity gives you responsibilities, leadership roles and a chance to work closely with patients and other physicians.
If you’re looking for more hospital volunteering opportunities near you make sure you check out our city/regional guides.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.