Tristan asks below:
Now that I am in college, I have been looking to obtain some medical related experience through volunteer work. I have tried the volunteer programs at some Boston hospitals, but I did not find them to be meaningful. They would generally consist of pushing patients around. I feel this is much less helpful than serving people in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Moreover, the volunteer sheet would often be filled months in advance, so it was as if me being there did not help anybody at all because many others were clamoring for the precious volunteer hours. The supply vastly exceeded demand. Overall, the activity seemed to be just designed to be put on a piece of paper or medical school application instead of being a program that really helped people.
Do you have any recommendations for volunteer activities which provide medical experience and help people in a meaningful way in the Boston area, and which are accessible by public transportation for us poor undergraduates?
I want to answer this is in a kind and gentle way, but here's the best I can do: Tristan, your definition of meaningful is a bit elitist. But let's just attribute it to a lack of understanding. Let me try to explain with the very example you cited.
Let's talk about "pushing people around." The people who push people around in a hospital are not only performing an important job, i.e., delivering bedridden or wheelchair-dependent patients to test, appointments, or other activities -- but the way they do the job is extremely important to the patient's experience. Their approach and demeanor can make the difference between a patient's feeling relaxed, comfortable, and welcome in a hospital and feeling like a slab of meat being delivered to the corner deli.
In our hospital, a gentleman named Chris who works as a transporter not only is friendly, polite, and helpful to his clients, but he actually sings to them while they are in transit. (He has a lovely, soft voice.) So, imagine you are tired, anxious, and upset and Chris is lovingly transporting you for an X-ray or other test. As you lie there in bed, you hear beautiful music wafting over you. You can't help but feel welcomed and comfortable and less anxious.
Tristan, there is human drama every moment in a hospital, thousands of times per day. Our job is to alleviate human suffering caused by disease. There is not one post in a hospital that is not meaningful in pursuit of that goal. You just have to look a bit deeper and find the meaning.
Also, there is meaning in the relationships you create with employees and other volunteers. Learn what they do and how they do it; learn about their backgrounds and their families; and learn how they express the values of the institution in their work every day. Even if the actual work you are doing is a bit tedious, the relationships you establish will teach you plenty.
As to your last question, every hospital in Boston is on a transit line, so access is not a problem. And there is no surplus of volunteers, regardless of what a signup sheet on a college bulletin board might show. Call up the volunteer services office in any hospital, talk to them, and I guarantee you will find something to do.
By the way, my first volunteer job was pushing patients in beds and wheelchairs in a hospital in New York City when I was in high school!