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Volunteering and Building Portfolio

V for…volunteering

by , 29 April, 2016


Following on from the blog post 'So you're thinking of applying to a portfolio school?', over the coming weeks I’ll be covering some of the specific elements of the medical school portfolio.

Most people thinking of applying to a portfolio school will be familiar with the seemingly mystical power of the V word: Volunteering.  Legend has it that in order to get into The University of Notre Dame (UND) you need to have founded an orphanage in Nigeria – or in the case of The University of Wollongong (UOW) – an orphanage in rural Nigeria

While for some successful candidates that’s true (seriously, they have Olympians), there are also plenty of current students who just happen to be good humans and well-rounded people (they let my little brother in so that’s saying something).

So even though UND has a section for Service to community/Church involvement (UOW are a little more secular with Service Ethic), believe it or not, you don’t have to be a patron saint-in-waiting to score an interview.  There’s a reason the universities haven’t gone with the portfolio heading ‘Volunteering’, and that’s because service to community can take many forms.  So think about times that you have offered your time/expertise for the benefit of others – have you participated in a mentor program?  Given a speech on careers night for your alma mater?  Baked goods for the office charity bake sale?  All of these things demonstrate service to others and commitment to your community, and those are some of the things that the portfolio schools look for in their candidates. 

That’s the trick with the portfolio – at first you’re probably drawing blanks, but once you start listing all the weird and wonderful things you’ve done throughout your life you should start to notice that some of them make you a great candidate.  There’s also nothing wrong with listing activities in multiple sections, as long as you highlight the relevant aspect of the activity.  For example, your mentoring activity could go under both Leadership and Service to Community – you could highlight how those various aspects developed your leadership skills as well as demonstrate your commitment to your community.

Also, if you haven’t got any formal volunteering under your belt, it’s not too late to start!  Some people will say it’s just portfolio stacking and won’t count for anything, but I disagree.  Admittedly, it’s not going to be viewed as highly as the applicant who has volunteered with Meals on Wheels for the past decade, but it’s still better than nothing.  The other plus is that if you’re from a non-health background, finding some volunteering in the health sector can be a great way to gain a bit of insight into the field you’re entering and keep you motivated throughout the long year ahead. 

Lastly, even if the hard truth is you’re just doing it to bulk up your portfolio, you’re still doing an awesome thing.  You just need to make sure you are realistic with yourself in terms of what you can offer and are upfront about your commitment (both in terms of frequency and duration), as some organisations require long-term volunteers.

So don’t be scared of the portfolio, but do start building it…now!