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What Is a Hospital Volunteer?

By Judith Smith Sullivan
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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A hospital volunteer is an individual who donates his or her time to perform tasks at a hospital. The types of tasks vary from hospital to hospital and from department to department. In some cases, volunteers perform tasks for patients which don't require specialized medical training. These types of volunteers are often unofficially called "candy stripers" in reference to uniforms of the past which had red and white strips.

There are a wide variety of tasks which volunteers can do at a hospital. Visiting with patients, helping with simple nursing tasks, like changing bed sheets or bringing patients reading material, working in the giftshops, and offering religious support to the grieving are just a few of the things a hospital volunteer can do.

The reward for volunteering at a hospital is almost always intrinsic. Sometimes individuals volunteer for the sake of a loved one who was hospitalized or to give back to a hospital where he or she received care. Many people claim that volunteering satisfies a need to help others and gives them purpose in life.

In some cases, students volunteer at hospitals to complete requirements for a course. They may also volunteer so that they have community service experience to list on their college applications and resume. They may also receive course credit for being a hospital volunteer.

Hospitals have different requirements for individuals who wish to volunteer. At the very least, individuals must complete an application listing their current and past occupations, whether they have committed a serious crime, and offer one to three references. Applicants may also have to agree to allow the hospital to perform a background check and drug tests before their application will be considered.

Even so, hospitals will typically accept volunteers of any age. Although not all age groups perform the same types of tasks, often what patients need is companionship. Even a child can be a hospital volunteer at some hospitals, although they may need to be accompanied by an adult.

Volunteer positions may be full time, part time, or event specific. Depending on the hospital procedures, it is possible to donate as much or as little time as desired. In many cases, as little as one or two hours a week is acceptable. In the case of single time volunteer opportunities, such as a fund raiser, the help of volunteers will be solicited to oversee operations or to represent the hospital.

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Discussion Comments
By Phaedrus — On Oct 27, 2014

My daughter is a VA hospital volunteer, and she actually gets to visit patients in their rooms and offer them something to read. She said a lot of patients still call her a candy striper, even though the hospital volunteer uniforms are a solid blue color. She's planning on becoming a respiratory therapist some day, so all of this volunteer work will look good on her resume after she graduates from medical school.

By Ruggercat68 — On Oct 26, 2014

I live about four blocks away from a very large hospital, and I've always thought about becoming a hospital volunteer some day. Whenever I have to spend time in a waiting room, I almost always camp out near the public phones and field telephone calls for other families. There's one phone that will ring whenever a patient is about to be taken back for surgery, and I'll usually answer it and contact the family members. If I could spend a few hours a week doing that as an official volunteer, I would be happy.

The other volunteer position that interests me is patient transportation. Whenever my mother-in-law has to have an in-patient procedure done, we have to go to a general admissions area first. There are volunteers who transport the patients to the proper destinations and bring them back when the treatment is over. This is a great service when the patient is elderly and the treatment room is far away from the waiting area.

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