At Albany Medical College, recent classes have seen the initiation of a new graduation requirement. Each student must complete forty hours of community service before graduation, with at least twenty hours completed by the end of the second year.
During college, I did countless hours of work in the community, volunteering at a preschool once a week throughout my four years, and serving as the advertising chair of the Red Cross Club, recruiting many hundreds of donors to blood drives on campus. These were service opportunities that I genuinely loved. I began them before I even considered applying to medical school and continued them until graduation.
In medical school, I looked forward to doing more of the same. Unfortunately, the service programs that were offered through the school were seemingly not aligned with my interests. So, in my first year, I studiously ignored the requirement and put it off. This year, however, I had to put aside my preferences and sign up for a program. So now I volunteer once a week at a residential mental health facility for children and adolescents, helping out with co-therapy groups.
At first, it was terrifying. My background as a camp counselor prepared me to interact with kids, but these kids are tough. They have to be, since they live in a facility that is very chaotic, and because they’ve come from difficult home lives or experienced abuse or self-harm. They are easily distracted, subject to turbulent moods, and sometimes physically combative. This was an unfamiliar environment for me, a relatively sheltered medical student from a small, quiet family. I had trouble relating to their experiences.
The first couple of weeks were draining; I’d come home from the one hour session of co-therapy groups completely exhausted. My boyfriend would have to pick up the pieces, make me dinner, and listen to me vent. But after a while, it’s gotten easier. I’ve come to know the girls in my group a little better and they’ve warmed up to me. For the last group meeting of the year, we played Wii Fit and did Zumba together. I had never done Zumba before, but several of the girls encouraged me to join, and I did (albeit clumsily)! It was nice to be welcomed into the group.
I still need many more service hours, so I’ll definitely be going back to the program in the upcoming semester. Although it is difficult at times, I don’t dread it anymore. It has felt good to get back to volunteer work; even if it’s not quite the variety I wanted, I’ve had a much better time than I expected and learned from the experience.