Volunteering as a PAth to Career Growth

How Volunteering Can Benefit your Practice and Career

December 1, 2017

By Jennifer Hohman

PAs can reap great personal and professional benefits from exploring the world of volunteering. Volunteering can connect you with the humane and humanistic reasons you likely chose to become a PA and revive your passion for practice.  Additionally, volunteering can offer very real career benefits, including the opportunity to expand your professional network and visibility in your community, to explore new practice areas and roles, to keep medically and professionally active during times of career or life transition, and to build leadership skills.

Studies have found that volunteers report higher levels of self-esteem and overall wellbeing due to the increased social integration and community connection. A series of studies in Harvard Health Blog cite benefits to volunteers’ emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. It also tends to bring out the best, most inspired and engaged versions of ourselves – a great context in which to connect and network with others.  Dedicate yourself to a volunteer position with all the zeal and passion you bring to your full-time practice position and you will automatically open up new professional opportunities while benefiting the community.

Finding Your Best Volunteer Position

Like a traditional job search, finding a great volunteer position depends on self-knowledge and clarity about your goals. Some questions to consider as your launch a volunteer search: How do you want to make a difference? What causes are you passionate about? Where would you enjoy spending time? Go in person to a variety of organizations and speak with staff and fellow volunteers. Do you sense a well-run, motivated team? Do folks seem energetic and engaged? Once you’ve identified a potential fit, make sure you clarify expectations. What are they looking for? What will your time commitments be? Will your role be medical or non-medical? If medical, does the position seem a good fit for your interests and expertise? How will you partner with other volunteers? If you are considering overseas medical volunteering, AAPA offers a very helpful question and answer page that addresses key topics.

Professional Considerations: Contracts and Liability

Before committing to a volunteer position, carefully assess your current employment contract. Does yours include language about external positions, to include volunteering? Many PA contracts I read have restrictive language that requires an employer’s permission in advance for a PA to provide even pro bono medical services or volunteering.  Frame a volunteering discussion with an employer in terms of the benefits it will bring you, your community, and your experience. Next, secure written permission for volunteer activities.

A word of advice–be prepared to discuss how you plan to have liability coverage: most employer-provided liability policies exclusively cover your work activities and not services provided outside of work. AAPA Insurance Service is a great resource; it offers PAs special “moonlighting” policies with a discounted premium to reflect the more limited exposure of a second position.

Adding Depth and Continuity to your Resume

Volunteering is a way to add depth and variety to your resume, cover letters, and LinkedIn profile. Be sure to have a Volunteering section on your resume with information and descriptions of your volunteering roles and accomplishments–and also consider adding volunteer colleagues to your reference pool. For PAs between positions, volunteering not only keeps your morale high and your skills engaged while you pursue your next position, but helps prevent gaps in work history.

LinkedIn offers a perfect venue to showcase your volunteer activities and to connect with members of volunteer organizations. To update your LinkedIn page to include volunteer activities, simply add the “Volunteer Experience and Causes” field to your LinkedIn profile. Also be sure to fill out the related “Organizations you Support” and “Causes you Care About” fields. Send your volunteering colleagues LinkedIn invites, and consider them as possible Testimonial sources. Employers will notice positive feedback that illuminates your care, compassion, and leadership in a volunteer context.

All in all, volunteering offers PAs a world of unique opportunities for personal and career growth. Dive in!

Volunteering Resources to Explore

Volunteer Match.org

A tremendous resource for locating volunteer opportunities across the country: search by a variety of categories, including Health and Medicine.

PAs for Global Health

Idealist.org

United We Serve

Jennifer Anne Hohman is founder of PA Career Coach, a service dedicated to helping PAs create healthy and sustainable careers. Contact her at [email protected].