How to Make the Most of Health Care Volunteers

By Kayla Matthews, HealthIT writer and technology enthusiast, Tech Blog
Twitter: @ProductiBytes

Volunteering is an act many people first experience in their adolescent or teenage years. It requires a selfless mindset and a caring attitude, dedicated to making change within a community that’s larger than themselves. Health care is one area that is always in need of these volunteers.

Hospitals are massive and do their best work thanks to the contributions of hundreds of individuals. There are a dozen units spread across several floors, and while the nurses, doctors and surgeons keep the place running, volunteers who receive no pay for their work enable the fluidity of operations.

Health care volunteers give a set amount of time to help with necessary tasks at a hospital under the direct supervision of a nurse. They are often high school or college students wanting to learn more about the health care field while satisfying community service requirements.

While volunteerism seems to be on the rise — especially among younger people — it is increasingly important for health care professionals to understand how to make the most of their volunteers. Here are a handful of ways for these leaders to appreciate and use their volunteer work.

1. Provide Opportunities to Learn
A hospital volunteer will not be performing medical duties. This fact, however, doesn’t mean they won’t have the ability to gain insights, such as watching a nurse draw a patient’s blood.

As curiosity and proximity to procedures grow, your volunteers will naturally want to know more about the health care field. If you have the staff, hold an after-hours seminar or informal presentation to contribute to your volunteers’ ongoing learning process.

2. Keep Volunteers Engaged in Their Work
The best way to keep your volunteers engaged during their shift is to get to know their interests. Yes, your volunteers will often end up in one of three service areas — patient care, wayfinder/greeter and administrative. Each of these tasks suits different qualifications and personality traits, and by understanding who your volunteers are, you can ensure you won’t accidentally place someone in an area they despise or cannot excel in.

Another great tactic is to set your volunteers up for success as they enter their shift. Do you know their night is only going to be filing paperwork or entering data? Let them know ahead of time so they can bring music or a podcast to listen to. Is their unit full of patients? Prepare them so they can be physically and mentally alert and ready.

3. Have Clear and Open Communication
No professional work relationship will ever succeed if the communication is lacking. It doesn’t matter if your volunteer is there for eight hours a month or 50 — they need to know who they can contact with any questions and how.

Set up a texting chain, use a team whiteboard or send email blasts to keep the right people in the loop at all times.

It’s also a good idea to set clear expectations up front about what you need from your volunteers. They have other commitments they look forward to keeping, so making sure their schedule lines up with your hospital’s is of the highest priority.

4. Create a Social Community
Along with having open communication, you should strive to make your hospital a welcoming, social and friendly atmosphere. Just like you want to provide the best experience possible for your patients, you should actively work to create the same with your volunteers. By doing so, you’ll establish a community both volunteers and workers will want to be part of.

Create bonding teams within each unit, celebrate small victories with each other and create a community social page to organize events and interact outside of the hospital.

5. Be Appreciative With Your Thanks
What’s the fastest way to lose the energy, commitment and interest of your volunteers? To never vocalize your appreciation or extend praise. It doesn’t take too much time out of your day to write a thank-you note or purchase a gift card from the local coffee shop.

The next time you pass a volunteer in the hallway, stop, smile and say “thank you” for the work they’ve contributed.

Finally, hold a gathering with your hospital’s staff or send out anonymous surveys and ask the question, “What would you like to do for your patients but can’t because you have no time?”

These are the areas your health care volunteers can help you in — and this is where you can find the most value.