Volunteering – So much more than a section on your dental application

MacGregor Chase MainReprinted with permission from the blog of ASDA District 5, D5ASDA

Most predental students lead very busy lives with the bulk of their focus being on GPA, DAT, perfecting their applications and, for many, working to mitigate incurring student loans. With all these demands it can be hard to find time to volunteer in dental community outreach. However, the benefits of volunteering should not be minimized as they are tremendous and not only for application appeal purposes, but also for personal growth and community enrichment. The right volunteering role can improve personal growth by enhancing the understanding of an industry, providing networking opportunities, reducing stress, and improving lives and enriching communities.

Choosing the right volunteer activity is critical and an excellent opportunity to dabble in a variety of aspects of the dental industry. If you want to explore interests, you can try event volunteering versus a fixed service position. This is also an excellent way to explore specialties and interests without a long-term commitment. For example, if you are interested in pediatric dentistry, volunteer at a children’s event. These events are held periodically by charitable organizations and universities and typically last 1-2 days.

Volunteering provides countless networking opportunities. Usually, in service work there is the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and get involved with a culturally diverse environment. Often there is the opportunity to observe dental services and speak directly with patients and experts in the field. These interactions allow you the opportunity to improve your problem-solving, task management, organization, communication and teamwork skills.

There are known physical benefits derived by those who volunteer. Some of the benefits include a decrease in stress levels and improvement in mental and physical health. When volunteering your time to help others you obtain a feeling of appreciation, a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This is known as the ‘Happiness Effect’ and is caused by a release of dopamine in the brain. Even better, these feelings are reciprocated with the team members and patients being served.

Perhaps the greatest benefit we can get from volunteering is the gratification of integrating service into our lives and making a difference in our communities. The intangible benefits such as satisfaction and accomplishment are alone valuable reasons to serve. By sharing our time and talents we can strengthen our communities, connect to others and improve lives.

Preparing to become a dental student involves many aspects: GPA, DAT and a powerful application, to name a few; but do not discount the value of meaningful volunteering. At times, volunteering may feel like another tedious task you must do but keep in mind the benefits extend well beyond having a complete dental application and could quite possibly be a pinnacle contributor to your success as a future dentist.

Tips for Volunteering 

  • Find a cause that is important and of interest to you.
  • Consider your goals for volunteering. Knowing what you expect to gain from the experience will help you determine which programs to participate in.
  • Find the role that fits your schedule. Organizations need different levels of commitment for different types of volunteer activities. Consider how much time you can give and if you want to serve locally or internationally.
  • Once you find an association that aligns with your interests, request an interview and plan for it as you would a job.

Volunteer Opportunities: 

- MacGregor Chase Main, University of South Florida '16