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Can I get hospital volunteer hours virtually?

I want to be an ophthalmologist in the future, and I am currently a high school sophomore (10th grade). I know in pre-med/medical school admissions they ask a lot about what experience you have in the health care field, but I'm not sure how I can do that in the current times (the pandemic). I know the Mayo Clinic has some programs for high school students, and I'm applying for those - but are there other virtual opportunities that are currently available for this?

Thank you! Have a great day.

high-school experience college pre-med admissions ophthalmologist

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Mary Jane’s Answer

Unfortunately, this seems to vary widely by geography and profession. I know it's frustrating, but the good news for you is that you still have a lot of time ahead of you before you apply. Medical schools will be most interested in what you do as a college student, so if your options are limited this summer, you will still be able to get the experiences you need in the years ahead.

You might broaden your search to include optometry because it would give you more options for this summer and the insight you gain from understanding the difference between optometry and ophthalmology might be helpful in the future. Some other ideas:

1) Try calling the volunteer coordinator at your local hospital to see when they expect to allow volunteers. You can also ask if they are allowing shadowing and how that is normally set up at their facility.

2) Try calling some independent optometry offices to see if they are allowing shadowing or if they hire high school students to assist in the practice. I once had a pre-optometry student who worked as a tech and performed minor tests in an optometry office.

3) Several websites have sprung up online for virtual shadowing as a result of the pandemic. They are more like informational interviews with a physician and some share their video recordings online, but they may not have any ophthalmologists in their offerings. Search for things like "virtual premed shadowing", "virtual pre-health shadowing", and "e-shadowing". Personally, I would not pay money for these particular services.

4) Along those lines, you might call or email some local ophthalmologists to see if they would be willing to do an informational interview with you. If you have a good rapport with someone during a phone or video conversation, you can ask about shadowing. It may not be possible now, but it could open doors in the future.

5) There is an organization called Be My Eyes that you can volunteer with virtually. Check it out at https://www.bemyeyes.com/. You could also reach out to your local Lions Club; they do eyeglass donation/recycling and you might be able to assist with that effort in a socially distanced fashion.

6) If all else fails, I would encourage you to find ways to volunteer in your community this summer in a safe and healthy way. It doesn't need to be focused on medicine or vision. Medical schools like to see that you care about your community and that you are a complete person with interests outside of medicine. There are a lot of people who are falling through the cracks due to COVID. You can help sort or deliver food for your community food bank, tutor children online, help seniors sign up for vaccinations or just check in with them to make sure they aren't getting lonely from all the isolation. I know a student who is volunteering with a virtual play program for his local children's hospital. If you are creative, you can find ways to make a positive impact while learning about yourself and others. Look for ways to make your community a healthier, more caring place and that will go a long way to preparing you for a career in the health professions. Good luck!

Hi! I will definitely look into all of these options. Thank you so much for the advice! Samruddhi P.

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Douglas’s Answer

Had 2 children that did volunteer work at the local hospital. Suggest you inquire about the availability of volunteer opportunities at your local hospital, nursing homes, or physician clinics. Each will have different requirements to ensure your safety and patient safety.

Great, thank you! Samruddhi P.

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Ayesha’s Answer

Hi Samruddhi,

The way we work has changed quite a bit in the pandemic, and so have the expectations of schools/employers to a certain extent. You can explore online/virtual volunteer opportunities within your community as well as online on platforms like LinkedIn which are now increasingly posting remote volunteer/internship opportunities.
With the vaccine rollout underway, hopefully the situation will be more conducive for in-person volunteering in the coming months, so you can revisit this around that time.

Please stay safe, and good luck with your search.

Hi Ayesha! Thank you so much for your advice! Samruddhi P.

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