Students Volunteer in Durham

Duke Medical students share their time and talents with Durham area non-profits on this semi-annual community service day.

Sorting sweet potatoes into food boxes for families in need is not exactly how medical students typically spend a Saturday morning, but for the Duke University School of Medicine students who signed up to volunteer for Duke in Durham Day this past November, they didn’t want to be anyplace else. “They loved it,” says Julia Salinaro, MSIII, vice president of service for the Davison Council.

VolunteersDuke in Durham Day is a semi-annual day of service for students coordinated by the Davison Council service committee. The day is designed to bring students with jam-packed schedules together as a community to support local non-profits.  Each year, the spring event coincides with the Spring Fling and the fall event coincides with the Davison Ball.

The most recent event took place on Saturday, November 4. Over 120 student volunteers worked two-hour shifts at 11 different sites throughout Durham. The sites reflected a variety of community organizations, and students chose where they wanted to spend their time. Many of the sites have worked with the School of Medicine students for several years and are chosen by the Davison Council based on the hands-on nature of the opportunities they provide, their high level of organization, and their enthusiastic coordinators. “Medical students are busy, and so everyone wants to be sure that the experience is valuable,” says Salinaro.

Students volunteered at various locations, including the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, the Ronald McDonald House, the Animal Protection Society of Durham, several community gardens, Habitat for Humanity, and REMEDY, a Duke-based volunteer-run program that gathers and redistributes surplus medical supplies to under-served communities around the world.

Salinaro surveyed participants this year, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The students considered the time well-spent, enjoyed being a bigger part of the community, and appreciated the chance to see students from different class years who they don’t have a chance to spend time with while in school. 

Given the positive feedback, one of Salinaro’s goals is to increase service opportunities for medical students. “Service is such a big component of why we come to medical school,” she says. “It’s what sustains doctors through challenges and reminds us of why we’re here.  Service is also a part of wellness, forming bonds, and feeling as if you’re part of the larger community.”

To that end, she has created a monthly service opportunity for students beyond the semi-annual Duke in Durham Day. More frequent volunteering opportunities is a way to help build continuity with community partners and a chance for students to work together more than twice a year. Although smaller in nature, with space for only 15-20 volunteers each month, students have responded eagerly to the idea. “I sent out the sign-up sheet in the morning, and it was full the same day,” says Salinaro.  

She is also hoping to expand the semi-annual event to include guest speakers, such as former Mayor Bill Bell, and would love to hear from any alumni in the area who currently incorporate service into their practice.

The next Duke in Durham Day is scheduled for April 7, 2018. If you are in the area and would like to join the School of Medicine volunteers, or have an idea about other community non-profits who would benefit from volunteers, please contact Grace Taylor at

Thursday, February 1, 2018

By Mara Shurgot