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A student enrolled in a physician assistant program will have more volunteer opportunities available than an undergraduate student will have. During undergraduate studies, the chances of gaining experience through volunteering are difficult. One method suggested by a blog is to shadow a working PA. It will take some ingenuity to grab the attention of the individual and to convince the PA to allow you to tag along with presents a challenge. Small clinics provide more success than large ones or hospitals. The latter might be reluctant to have embrace volunteers due to HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws. For individuals, the Act protects your privacy by limiting who has access to your medical information.


To begin your search for volunteer opportunities while an undergraduate, look for possibilities in health care. Despite HIPPA, hospitals need volunteers in various capacities – supplementing full-time staff, greeting families, and performing office chores. Research hospitals, such as St. Jude’s in Memphis, have a variety of roles for eager volunteers. You may interact with the children who are patients or assist parents by recommending accommodations, for example.

For Memphis residents, St. Jude’s would be a place for students eighteen and older to apply. They require a commitment of at least once a week or three times a month. Some of the placements keep art and craft supplies in the Art Gallery. Other areas involve the organization of group events outside of the hospital. St. Jude’s has a housing facility, Tri Delta Place, where volunteers perform light chores, organize toys and games, serve meals, prepared bagged snacks, work as a concierge, or deliver goods on the amenities cart to families and guests.

Veterans Association

If there is a VA facility or hospital near you, this is another place to consider. The VA North Texas Health Care System, for example, welcomes volunteers to obtain on-the-job skills in different roles. Some of the work involves:

  • Valet Parking
  • Greeters and Ambassadors
  • Information Desk
  • Recreational Activities
  • Rehabilitation Support
  • Special Events Coordinator
  • Quality Assurance

Some hospitals in populated communities accept volunteers whose activities may bring them closer to patient care as an observer. Students over 18 are eligible for Shadowing/Clinical Observation duties within the University of Colorado (UC) Health system. One of the Health locations is the Broomfield Hospital, which seeks volunteers 14 and older who can commit to a six-month stint working twice a month. A position in the Rehab Unit would offer limited exposure to patient care as the duties include communicating, greeting, and admitting patients. However, the proximity to those who do provide direct patient care could lead to further patient involvement once you reach eighteen.


Individuals who are comfortable with and empathetic towards the elderly may find volunteer positions with a local hospice. The organizations have volunteers visit the elderly, assist licensed caregivers, and run errands for those confined to home. Other tasks include reading, using crafts, playing cards or games, or listening to music with the patient. Sadly, hospice care requires sitting with someone during his/her final hours, whose presence may provide solace. This supportive role is an Eleventh Hour Volunteer.


Patient care experience (PCE) is not the same as health care experience (HSE). Any of the volunteer possibilities mentioned above will be beneficial to expound on during your PA school interview. However, they may not meet the requirements of direct patient care that PA programs mandate. The number of hours varies by school, which can run into several hundred hours of direct patient care. Des Moines University states that applicants must have at least 750 hours as an employee or volunteer in a medical clinic, hospital, or extended-care facility.

The definition of PCE, according to The Central Application Service for Physician Assistant (CASPA), is that the experience must be hands-on. Some technician jobs entailing drawing blood under the direction of a nurse or taking vitals qualifies as PCE. Some research coordinator roles may place you into contact with patients with PA, MD, or RN supervision.

Medical mission work will involve expenses; however, it is another means of obtaining the requisite patient experience. Drawing blood, checking vitals, monitoring lab results, and administering to minor wounds are some of the duties.


Acceptance into a PA program goes beyond volunteer work, academics, and letters of recommendation. In these highly competitive programs, the edge may go to those with a more significant number of PCE hours. Perhaps this is the reason that 79%, according to a survey, of applicants have worked in a medical profession. Examples are nurses, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), radiology technicians, occupational therapists, and many more.

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