Richard, it all depends on the program. What most programs are interested in is direct, patient contact experience. Volunteering can mean a lot of things, from a person who stays in the back filing charts to someone much more involved with patients, participating in aspects of care. When I evaluate candidates for PA School, I’m looking for two things relative to experience:
1. I want to know that the candidate is comfortable being around and touching patients. It would be a major mistake to dive head first into becoming a Physician Assistant, only to find out during your clinical year that you are very uncomfortable working closely with patients.
2. I want to know that the candidate knows how PAs work within the system. They need to have enough experience to really understand the role PAs play in the health care setting, including the psychosocial dynamics involved with patients, other practitioners, nursing staff etc.
Finally, I’ll mention this. Remember that landing a seat in PA school is highly competitive. Therefore, the higher quality of patient contact experience you can obtain, and the more experience you have, the greater the chance you’ll be able to get into a program. Candidates who are seriously interested in becoming a PA, who do not have a lot of patient contact experience, should strongly consider becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or emergency medical technician (EMT) so they can obtain this experience.
I hope this helps… good luck!