Community Service and Volunteering

Pre-Professional Health Sciences preparation requires that our students travel beyond the confines of the campus grounds to connect with the diverse communities in Seattle as well as outside our city and across the nation. Our goal in encouraging community service is multidimensional.

We require students to engage with a community-based service organization in order to participate in efforts to remove historical and structural barriers to education, health care, and other important areas of life that promote human flourishing and spiritual wholeness.

Our leadership believes that it is important for our students to provide articulable faith-based reason for their motivations, preparation, and service. Hence, we promote the original “three R’s” of Christian community development developed by John Perkins: Relocation, Reconciliation, and Redistribution. Perkins, founder of the John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University, models “a holistic, Christ-centered response to poverty and injustice on the part of Christians everywhere, regardless of socioeconomic status, culture, or ethnic background.” Younger Christians who have continued Perkins’ work seek to help those on society’s margins and have added other components to Christian community development.

Encouraging students to volunteer and work with organizations outside of SPU brings distinct benefits:

  • PPHS students gain access to a broad array of nonprofit organizations, community leaders, and other professionals.
  • Students are situated in proximity to unique opportunities for learning about regional, national, and global communities.
  • Site leaders instruct our students on best practices in key areas of professional preparation: (1) academic competence, (2) clinical observation, (3) community service, (4) collaboration & collegiality, (5) narrative medicine, (6) pre-professionalism, and (7) vocation.

Why should a PPHS student volunteer?

Volunteer experience shows dedication and commitment in service to others. We advise students to select service experiences that go beyond their personal comfort zone. Volunteering allows students to build their communication and collaboration skills. Long-term service can provide students with a realistic perspective of a life of service. Most importantly, volunteering among the underserved builds one’s capacity for empathy and compassion―qualities essential in caring for others in the clinical environment.

What do community volunteers accomplish?

  • Volunteers provide meaningful services to non-profit organizations.
  • Volunteers help improve our local communities through engagement with the underserved.
  • Volunteers educate and support underserved populations by tutoring, teaching, mentoring, coaching, and supporting those in crises.
  • Volunteers educate the public on health and safety.
  • Volunteers donate time and medical knowledge to free clinics and natural/civil disaster areas worldwide.

How do we approach volunteering at SPU?

Over the years, I’ve had many exchanges with PPHS students about community. These conversations remind me of one of my grandmother’s favorite maxims: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Consequently, we take a best practices approach to community service in preparation for a career in medicine.

How do we make sure that PPHS students follow best practices?

We try to get students to move beyond literal interpretations of the terms “community service” and “volunteering.” The typical student’s approach to these experiences reveals a tendency to choose convenience over more serious commitment.

At SPU, the John Perkins Center staff visit PPHS courses every term to cover community service. Caenisha Warren and her team emphasize our connection to the center and its relative convenience. We revisit this topic in each course, through personal consultations, and on our listserv.

Hence, we help students understand community service in relation to social justice and their own life narratives. We emphasize a long-term commitment and getting beyond one’s comfort zone.

Community service in our program has two normative channels:

  • Non-clinical service among underserved populations
  • Volunteering in a clinical environment that focuses on needy, underserved, or marginalized populations.

By the beginning of sophomore year, every serious PPHS students should know what’s required of them in regards to volunteering. We expect our students to understand the logic that leads us to determine which kinds of activities promote personal and professional growth in a manner that is normative in health care.. The ability to curate and narrate your own volunteer experiences will make you a distinctive candidate for professional school.

Because holistic review seeks to determine whether a candidate has spent time volunteering and working outside their comfort zone, we ask students to avoid counting hours of work in organizations connected to their church or to their extended family. In other words, students must serve organizations outside of their church and family networks. A student may list home-grown experiences (other than overtly religious work) on an application, though we ask students to avoid making such activities foundational ones.

Finally, we encourage students to thoughtfully approach their volunteering in a long-term, incremental manner. We expect them to develop relationships within their communities of service and with their coworkers. Above all, we ask students to listen to the people they serve.

Additionally, we bring in speakers to help students think about service work. We spend countless hours advising. And we inform students about community service checkpoints in PPHS 1800 and PPHS 3400. This notification is given far in advance and on a regular basis. Students who scramble at the last minute to meet our criteria will not be taken seriously. Likewise, students who quibble about this important aspect of preparation won’t receive optimal benefit or support from the program. They also risk failing PPHS 1800 and PPHS 3400.

We simply can’t fully support applications that reveal procrastination and superficial resume-building strategies.

The moral to this story: be an intentional, proactive, and thoughtful planner.