How To: make the most of your volunteer experience

By: Swayamdipto Misra

Walking into a hospital can be an overwhelming experience for just about anyone, but it can be particularly stressful for new volunteers. These volunteers can be identified by their slack-jawed expressions as they gape at nurses running down the hallway alongside bedridden critical patients or at the flight team rushing to the helicopter to fly to patients. Volunteering at a hospital is not just answering calls at nurse’s stations or helping wheel handicapped patients down to the exit ramp. If done correctly, it can be an immensely satisfying experience that will give the volunteers a taste of what being a healthcare professional entails.

The number one quality a volunteer should possess in order to have the most informative experience is an openness to whatever may be asked of them. Every task that a volunteer is asked to do is important, even if it may seem mundane or boring at times. Volunteers are at the bottom of hospital totem pole, and like bottom feeders everywhere, they are expected to clean up the little jobs and tasks. They have the least responsibility because they are not usually qualified and have no experience in doing anything else. Least responsibility, however, does not mean no responsibility; lives are still at stake.


Photo credit: / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Volunteers are given jobs that offer them a chance to learn about health care from a bottom-up perspective. Maybe in the midst of organizing paperwork and stamping countless files, a volunteer will achieve sudden enlightenment and realize that they could not bear to deal with any giant bureaucracies and that they would rather become a dolphin trainer. If doing the so-called grunt work is the bane of a volunteer’s existence, then they are probably not cut out for a career in healthcare. Too many doctors and nurses already suffer from the burnout associated with bureaucratic matters.

Volunteers are also in a prime position to talk to nurses and doctors and find out why they decided to follow their career paths. Volunteers can pick up tips on how to be happy in healthcare during these times as well. For those reasons, volunteers should try to make friends with everyone around them because if one idea sticks out in a hospital, it is that there are no lone heroes. Everyone works together with the person beside them for the betterment of the patient. A good working relationship with the people around a volunteer will reap countless benefits such as a welcoming workplace and a group of people prepared to mentor the volunteer. If a volunteer is interested in medicine, a good working relationship with the attendant that comes through their floor — always followed by those nervous residents though — could result in being invited to observe a procedure on a patient or being introduced to other doctors who are in the field that the volunteer is interested in.

Lastly, a good volunteer should make friends with their fellow volunteers; they are the peers they will eat lunch with, share priceless memories with, and grow as a human being with. When matters start looking dark or a hard day’s work hits home, a volunteer should always be able to turn to his peers for comfort and support. Being a volunteer at a hospital is an immensely satisfying job that everyone interested in careers in healthcare should pursue.