Will a medical mission trip on my resume give me props from the admissions committee(s)?
Medical mission trips for pre-med students have increased in numbers, causing many premeds to assume they’re a necessary part of the med school admissions packet. They aren’t.
What are your reasons for going on a medical mission trip? In fact, you’re doing a medical mission trip for the wrong reasons, or going on the wrong kind of medical mission internship, it can ding your application.
Here are reasons NOT to go on a medical mission trip:
—It’s in a tropical location and looks very much like a vacation;
—The medical mission trip lasts only a week or two, not long enough to accomplish much but perfect for a stint of “medical tourism;”
—The NGO or other organization you’ll be serving is known for replacing locals and/or causing them a loss in pay in order to accommodate volunteers like you;
—You are asked to do things you aren’t trained or certified to do;
—You really can’t afford it.
On the other hand, here are benefits of medical mission trips:
—You are going for altruistic reasons, and are truly passionate about helping a community in need;
—You are able to stay a bit longer and truly be a part of the medical/humanitarian effort;
—You’re not having to stretch your funds, since you’ll soon be needing to cover med school application costs as well as the cost of attending interviews in various locations. (This can include air travel, hotel, food and other extraneous costs.);
—You are interested in serving on medical mission trips in the future as a physician, and would like to get your feet wet early on; and
—You have a special language skill that may make you useful as a translator/host.
Consider the local route
The truth is, there are plenty of pre-med internships to serve right in your own back yard, and it could be a much better use of funds (and perhaps a better experience) to dig in and join a local effort, rather than going on a medical trip abroad.
Your contribution will probably be viewed more favorably if you choose a group you are passionate about in your own community, and keep up your commitment of time and resources for 6 months or a year (or more). Other ways of showing your passion might include raising funds for the group and/or helping create greater awareness of its purposes within your community.
Do your homework
If you’re considering joining a medical mission trip for pre-med students, do your research on the organizations you’ll be serving. Some NGOs are known to create vacuums in local impoverished communities by bringing in foreigners to do a task, thereby chasing away or lessening the commitment to do it locally. In essence, these “humanitarian efforts” often leave the host countries worse off when they close down. Check out the reputation of the group you’ll be serving with. It should be a medical trip for pre med students that is teaching and empowering local partners to join in and eventually take over the work you’ll be doing.
Expect some clarifying questions in your med school interview to try to discern the real impetus behind your pre-medical school internship(s) and pre-med mission trips abroad. This can either be a nice plus, or a distraction from your medical school application.
Are the best medical school personal statements those that reference medical mission trip(s)?
Med students can shine on medical school applications without a pre-med medical mission trip. In fact, for reasons stated above, a medical internship abroad could have a negative impact on a medical school application. Is it worth going on a medical mission trip? Tread carefully and consider the costs and factors we’ve listed here that separate fact and fiction when it comes to mission trips and medical school admission!
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