Students choose to volunteer at Yale-New Haven Hospital

Many pre-med Yalies grow accustomed to making the trek up Science Hill for chemistry lectures, but those who seek an experience outside the classroom may take a path in the opposite direction — down the hill to Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Volunteering at the hospital is becoming increasingly popular among undergraduates at Yale who want to enhance their medical school application by bolstering their experience in the field. Approximately 135 undergraduates volunteered at the hospital last year — an “impressive” number, said Elizabeth Locke, volunteer program coordinator at Yale-New Haven.

Volunteers at the hospital are assigned to a variety of positions, ranging from “ambassadors” who greet and direct patients as they come in the door, to aides in the pediatric emergency department, who are charged with running errands and supporting busy hospital staff. Volunteers commit to working three-hour shifts once a week for at least six months.

Edward Miller, director of the Health Professions Advisory Program at Undergraduate Career Services, said the experience in a clinical setting such as Yale-New Haven is extremely important in medical school admissions.

“All too frequently I have been told by admissions deans that the reason they chose not to interview an applicant with high grades, strong MCAT scores and considerable research experience is that the applicant had no extensive exposure to patients,” Miller said.

This exposure is essential because it allows students to assess their ability to deal with ill or dying patients and their families, Miller said.

But some pre-med students said they volunteer at Yale-New Haven from a desire to help the community, not simply to round out their resumes.

“I like to help around,” Kofi-Buaku Atsina ’06 said. “Given that medical school is my path, I wanted to do something that was in a hospital setting.”

Molly Lubin ’06 said it is important for Yale students to venture outside of the school to gain experience.

“What’s been really interesting has been meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds who live in New Haven but aren’t part of the Yale community,” Lubin said.

She said her position in the adult emergency department has also kept her attuned to events occurring throughout the city, such as fires or car accidents.

Many volunteers said they have used their experiences to determine whether they truly want to enter the medical profession. When Jonah Hirschbein ’06 began volunteering at Yale-New Haven during the fall of his freshman year, he was not planning to attend medical school. But he said he decided to apply after his experience at the hospital.

Miller said volunteering helps many students like Hirschbein decide whether to continue on the path to medical school.

“Volunteering is vital, since coming to the realization during the first year of clinical rotations that one doesn’t enjoy patient care is really a hard lesson to learn,” Miller said.

In addition to Connecticut Hospice, Miller said the Hospital of St. Raphael and Leeway AIDS Hospice both offer students more direct contact with patients.

Gary Green ’06 is one of many students who wanted more patient contact. Volunteering at Yale-New Haven was not an accurate enough measure of his in medicine, Green said, so he stopped volunteering at the hospital after his freshman year.

“Most of what I was doing was stocking supplies,” Green said. “I was looking for an environment where I could place bandages and help nurses.”

Green now works at Connecticut Hospice, another medicine-related volunteer opportunity that offers more exposure to patients. Like many volunteers, Green said part of his motivation for donating his time was to gauge his interest in becoming a doctor.

“In order to make an intelligent, informed decision, I wanted a more hands-on experience,” he said.

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