Back to Blog
Atlantis students in the hospital where they are shadowing (Athens, Greece, 2016).

Medical Careers

Pre-Med Volunteering: The 7 Best Resources to Get You Started

Alexia profile

About Alexia

Alexia Katsaros is a Purdue graduate (’21) and a pre-medical student enjoying a gap year on the Atlantis admissions team. As an undergraduate, she majored in psychology and minored in biology and sociology. In the summer of 2019, she shadowed doctors at KAT hospital when she journeyed to Athens, Greece through the Atlantis shadow abroad program.

Whether you’re trying to round out your AMCAS application or looking to gain more experiences to work on your communication, interpersonal, or leadership skills, pre-med volunteering can be as impactful as it is personally rewarding. With all the possibilities out there, it can feel daunting to find the right fit for your interests and availability. This article will outline the seven major steps you can take to identify volunteer opportunities that are personalized for your own needs.

  • Self-Assess

Before you dive right into a program, you should identify your application strengths and weaknesses. Do you need to boost your non-clinical volunteer work? How are your leadership skills? The idea behind this exercise is to find something that’s relevant to you and your potential for growth, while also making sure to fill in potential gaps in your application. The AAMC has great tips on how to approach pre-med volunteering. 

Also, consider the differences between volunteering and shadowing and their demands. Volunteering involves hands-on work and may require some level of training or educational attainment. It is a must for any well-rounded medical school application.

  • Look Locally

You’d be surprised by how many opportunities are available around your town or even in your neighborhood. Don’t limit yourself to long commutes or detached volunteerism; try to find something close and meaningful to you. Check out your local food pantries, homeless shelters, and clinics— these are great places to start.

If opportunities are limited, you can even try to establish something yourself. At the height of the pandemic, I was able to create a food donation pick up system with members of my neighborhood, raising over 400 lbs of nonperishable goods! Always take advantage of an original idea.

  • Explore region-specific programs.

On a slightly larger scale, you might have access to unique volunteer opportunities that vary based on your state. Volunteering with these institutions can give you a competitive edge when submitting your primary application and conducting secondary interviews. Check out Princeton’s List of Hospital Volunteer Websites Across the US or stop by your university’s pre-health advising office for more information.

  •  Online Volunteering 

Because of the pandemic, many in-person volunteering opportunities have limited availability. This can be extremely stressful for a pre-med student looking to get some hours in.

During the height of the first wave of the pandemic, around May 2020, I found myself at a total loss. Hospitals and clinics were understaffed and had strict regulations against visitors. In my time of desperation, I turned to the Internet. I was able to find two fantastic online volunteering organizations that helped keep me busy for months: The Red Cross and Crisis Text Line.

  • Look at your time frame and be realistic

It’s important to balance your time wisely as a pre-med. If you’re juggling extracurriculars, a job, and a heavy course load, you might want to take a step back and think about what you can realistically accomplish within a 24-hour day. Look at your volunteering time as an opportunity to step away from your hectic world for a few hours. It’s also important to consider whether this volunteer opportunity requires a time commitment. You may have to adjust your schedule accordingly.

  • Consider a Gap Year

Gap years are common for pre-medical students looking to gain more worldly experience before they commit to many more years of schooling. If your application is especially lacking in volunteer experience, this could be a great chance for you to bulk up on your pre-med core competencies. If there is a certain volunteer opportunity you would like to pursue that has a time commitment, like the Peace Corps, it would be a good idea to plan around that. Atlantis programs are  another great way to spend your gap year now that borders are starting to open again. I personally participated in an Atlantis program during my sophomore year and was able to really hone in on the reasons why I wanted to become a physician.  

  • Go with what makes you happy

The most rewarding experiences arise when your heart is in the game. When you have a passion for the volunteer work you set out to accomplish, you are no longer doing it solely for a strong application. Your professional aspirations clearly show that you care about people; let your empathy translate into the work you do. Volunteer work will surely surprise and humble you, as it did me.

Finding the right volunteering position is no easy feat. With endless options and resources, it can feel impossible to know where to start. By following these seven tips, you will undoubtedly find a volunteer experience that is both beneficial to you and your application.

Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.

Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

John Daines headshot.

John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
  • Brigham Young University '19
  • Washington U. in St. Louis MD '23
Zoey Petitt headshot.

Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
  • U. of Arizona '18
  • Duke MD '23
Yong hun Kim headshot.

Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
  • Stanford '19
  • Mayo Clinic MD '24
Megan Branson headshot.

Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
  • U. of Washington MD '24
Sarah Emerick headshot.

Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
  • Indiana U. MD '25
Snow Nwankwo headshot.

Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
  • Georgetown U. MD '26
Tiffany Hu headshot.

Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
  • U. of Michigan MD '22
Lauren Cox headshot.

Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
  • U. of Arkansas MD '24
Kayla Riegler headshot.

Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

A student smiling and learning how to kayak.

Watch Video: The Atlantis Shadowing Experience and How it Helps In Your Med/PA Admissions Future

MessengerWhatsAppCopy Link
Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.