Rebecca Gardner admitted that as a first-year PA student, she sometimes feels a little selfish, though not necessarily in a negative way. 

“It’s a time when you’re studying all the time, you have deadlines and you’re thinking a lot about yourself,” she said. “You’re bettering yourself.” 

That kind of focus is a necessity for PA students to make it through their didactic year. But Gardner said it’s also important to think about others. “There’s more to life than just books and knowledge and studying,” she continued. “You have to be able to give back and start that now, not wait until we’re medical professionals.” 

Finding time to volunteer is an important way for first-year students to stay grounded in their pursuit of health care careers, while serving the community as well. 

Help Where It’s Needed 

Wake Forest PA students at both the Boone and Winston-Salem campuses have been finding ways to volunteer. 

In Boone, where Gardner is a student, students’ volunteering has centered on the Health and Hunger Coalition. While most of the work uses the students’ health care knowledge, the work can vary widely. 

Two young women wearing blue face masks and jackets give a thumbs-up gesture in front of a brick building

“We typically volunteer with the pharmacy,” Gardner continued, adding that the students lend a hand wherever it’s needed. “We’ve done canned food drives, diaper drives, we’ve written Christmas cards to assisted living residents.” 

Jacky Chun, one of Gardner’s classmates who also volunteers at the Health and Hunger Coalition, said they are sometimes there to simply lend a helping hand. “We clean, we sweep the floors, we organize the pantry,” she said. “Anything they needed help doing, we did it.” 

In Winston-Salem, students volunteered at the Community Care Clinic, a free health care clinic for people who cannot afford health insurance. First-year PA student Victoria Wimalarathna coordinated student volunteers from the Wake Forest PA program. 

“I wanted to get a partnership set up between the clinic and my class,” Wimalarathna recalled, saying that she reached out to the clinic to see what they needed from volunteers. Student volunteers at the clinic help by taking patients’ vitals, talk with patients as they come in, and generally take some of the burden off the physicians and nurses who work there. 

Since many of the patients who come in only speak Spanish, Madison Redwine uses her ability to translate to help while she volunteers. “I help by interpreting for the patients who don’t speak English, working with the providers and nursing staff,” she said. 

Two young women wearing blue face masks gesture toward neatly arranged pantry shelvesEnriching Experience

Whether they are applying their medical skills with patients or performing manual labor like mopping floors, all the student volunteers say they get a strong sense of satisfaction by helping people in need. 

“We get a lot out of it because we really make a difference in people’s days,” said Redwine. “I think we give comfort to the patients. They’re so thankful.” 

Chun, whose volunteer work is mostly non-medical, says volunteering helped her connect to her adopted community. “I didn’t know much about the small town of Boone, and I didn’t know there were so many low-income families,” she said. “It was really nice to see so many people there to help out.” 

Wimalarathna added that volunteering added a dose of reality to all of the studying and coursework. “We get so caught up in going to school that we can forget the reason we’re in PA school, which is to help patients,” she said. 

Gardner credited the culture of community service at Wake Forest as a reason so many students volunteered, noting that it’s important to maintain that mindset. “Wake is a hard school to get into, and we’ve all had incredible volunteering experiences,” she said. “To continue that through school just increases the chances you’ll continue it after school.” 

But she stresses that you don’t need to be a PA student to volunteer, and urges everyone to find ways to give back to their communities. “The opportunities are out there, and it doesn’t take much to find them,” she said. “It’s really important to look around you and see where the needs are, and then try to do your best to fill them.”