Volunteering is in fashion around the holidays but many abandon it at year’s end. And while it completely upended my professional life, I will owe my future career as a doctor to being a volunteer. Not everyone will change their profession as I did, but the power of volunteering is very real.
Long before enrolling at Creighton University’s School of Medicine in downtown Phoenix, being a volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul Medical Clinic moved me in a way that forever changed me. Supporting the staff at the clinic as they assisted patients through painstaking, sometimes desperate situations motivated me in a way that was profound. I abandoned a successful engineering career and had to explain to my family that I was basically starting over. As a first-generation college graduate it was a move that they had trouble understanding but eventually supported.
And while not every experience will be this immense, it is reported that volunteering gives people new purpose, improves mental states and even decreases stress as well as the risk of depression.
Still, oftentimes, the greatest barrier to being a volunteer is incorporating an activity into daily routines. A few of my favorite tips follow:
• Make volunteering a family activity and incorporate it as a monthly outing like a movie night.
• Swap a weekly workout with a volunteer activity.
• Take on small projects that can be done at your own pace from home, like assembling care packages for women’s shelters or homeless shelters.
• Pair things you love to do with ways to help others: if you love technology, teach iPhone 101 at a senior center
Creighton University’s health sciences campus in downtown Phoenix integrates clinical training at agencies that often rely upon the goodwill of volunteers directly into the curriculum, which provides students like me with opportunities to learn valuable career skills while giving back to our community. Places like the Phoenix Dream Center, Hospice of the Valley and Gigi’s PlayHouse are just some of the spots where Creighton students like me can be found. And even with our demanding academic schedules, many of us are so inspired by the good work of these agencies that we manage to squeeze in additional volunteer hours in between homework and exams.
If students studying to become future healthcare professionals can find time to volunteer, anyone can. With planning, adapting a ‘volunteer lifestyle’ is possible. Agencies like those mentioned and many others need volunteers year-round and there is no better time to start new routines than a new year. In 2023, make a resolution to start rituals that make our communities and world a better place.
Author: Esai Ponce is a first-year medical student at Creighton University – Phoenix.