How do community service experiences influence medical students’ careers?

We recently asked our medical student bloggers: “Have you had any community service experiences that have influenced the way you think about a career in medicine?” Here are their answers:

Jana Christian

Jana Christian,  Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
“While in college, I volunteered for an organization called Family Van, a free-of-charge health care clinic serving under-resourced Boston neighborhoods. Over the five months I volunteered there, my understanding of and passion for primary care greatly increased. I learned how to measure patients’ vital signs, and I was lucky enough to gain the trust and even the friendship of the individuals who regularly visited.  Being able to counsel a client over several weeks while monitoring her elevated blood pressure or speaking to someone about small, healthy lifestyle changes he could implement into daily life was an incredibly rewarding experience.”

J.Chika Morah, University of Toledo College of Medicine in OhioJay Chika Morah
“For my Girl Scout Gold Award, I worked along with one of my troop members to establish a Youth Advisory Board and create a Rights and Responsibilities Handbook promoting positive changes in the foster care system. I met with countless young adults who shared their experiences and concerns with me. The fact that they opened up and trusted me whole-heartedly, much like patients with their physician, was an indescribable feeling. These teenagers were allowing me to serve themA career in medicine is not an everyday “job”; it is a lifetime commitment of service, revolving around trust.”

Eduardo Salazar, The University of Arizona College of Medicine – PhoenixEduardo Salazar
“Serving a two-year religious mission in Brazil has had a profound impact on how I think about a career in medicine. On my mission, my success and fulfillment was tied directly to how committed I was to helping people and integrating myself into local communities. I always felt that I wasn’t being effective unless local residents trusted and respected me. The more effort I put into making those things happen, the happier I was. As a result, I want to use medicine as a way to make my community better and use my community to make medicine more fulfilling.”


Natalie Sous, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
My view of a career in medicine has been shaped through volunteer work as a patient navigator at a cancer center. My job was to connect patients with various hospital and community resources such as support groups and mind/body classes. Some of the patients I met with were terminally ill. While at times this made me feel helpless, I also realized that giving patients my full attention and hearing their stories made a difference to them. As physicians we will see patients with illnesses we cannot cure. However, even when medicine falls short, we can improve quality of life simply through our presence and support.

Natalie Strokes

Natalie Strokes, A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona
“I have had some pretty unique volunteer experiences that have helped me really assess the kind of doctor I want to be as my career progresses. My volunteer trips to India and Rwanda have allowed me to realize how much I want to help those who are underserved and are without access to basic medical care. There is tremendous need for doctors in both the U.S. and abroad to help those without direct access to medicine. Bringing light to the situations many face and addressing their needs in a sustainable fashion is my main goal as my career in medicine progresses.”

Evan Torline

Evan TorlineUniversity of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky
“While in undergrad, I spend a good amount of time at my church’s ministry providing food to the urban poor and homeless in Indianapolis. I usually just prepared food but from time to time when I didn’t have class I would assist in the distribution of it. I really got to know some of the regulars there, and it was sometimes shocking in what those individuals endured on a daily basis. Even more shocking was the amount of it that was medically related. I think those relationships opened my eyes to the suffering that occurs to so many people, and allowed me to lay down a good foundation as to why I thought medicine would be a rewarding career in the first place.”

Other questions our medical student bloggers have answered: