This topic is very close to my heart. Some of my best experiences of my life to date have been having the opportunity to take two out of the country service trips while in undergraduate school at the University of Missouri. I believe most schools have similar opportunities for those interested in service and medicine!
Service trips are not only a HUGE way to make your application stand out among the masses, but they really give you a life changing perspective that will help you in the long run in the health care field, in general, and definitely as a Physician Assistant. A lot of PA schools pride themselves in compiling a diverse class, and something I've learned is that although diversity includes simple things that you can't control like ethnicity, socioeconomic background, etc., it also includes diverse mindsets and life experiences.
My first service trip was to Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. I went with a group that included all Health Sciences students and we were serving a rural underserved community by tutoring and teaching English to Spanish as a first language elementary and middle school students. Although this experience wasn't directly related to health, it opened my eyes to so many different factors that contribute to someone's lifestyle. They didn't have hot water, electricity was not guaranteed, and plumbing was an entirely different issue but these kids were so filled with joy from simple things like playing basketball with us at recess. It allowed me to realize how little we need in order to be happy and how caught up we become in such an industrialized nation like the United States.
My second service trip was to Cape Town, South Africa. I went with a group that included students majoring in health related fields and it was considered a Public Health Internship. We served at a primary school and mainly volunteered by cleaning, organizing, and tutoring the students. We were also able to volunteer within the community with the University of Western Cape's nursing students. A pivotal part of this trip is when we were talking with some of the community members about healthcare in South Africa and they stated that they would "rather die" than get treated in a public hospital, even if it were an emergency. This conversation shocked me because I never realized healthcare could be so bad that it could truly scare people away. This moment is where I began to self reflect on what I wanted to do in the healthcare field and I realized that I wanted to dedicate myself in serving the underserved populations in some sort of way through medicine, whether it's my primary job or through community involvement.
If you're at all looking at taking a medical mission or service trip prior to PA school, I would highly highly recommend you consider it because I know that my experiences have changed my life for the better! I also think that these unique experiences helped me stand out in the application process and allowed the schools to really see what I am passionate about.
If you have any questions about service trips or about my specific trips at all, please reach out! I would be more than happy to help if at all possible.