Here's what volunteering at a hospital is really like. And why you should do it.

Have you ever considered volunteering at a hospital? It's an important job that's often overlooked.

Photo by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade via WikiCommons.

When you think about the work done at hospitals and other care facilities, visions of doctors and nurses are probably first to come to mind. While these healthcare professionals do some of the most important work on the planet (and that's no overstatement), volunteers are an integral part of the hospital's ecosystem as well.


Volunteers greet visitors, run groups, provide support to patients, wash and change linens, clean rooms, restock supplies and help ensure that the hospital is running cleanly and smoothly so that those providing medical care can focus on the patient's physical health and continued well-being.

In short, volunteers are vital. They form real and lasting connections with patients, and help them get better in a clean, comforting environment.

We talked to three people to get their take on what it's like to work in care facilities, the challenges they've faced, and what the work they did taught them about themselves (and it taught them a lot). Read on to find out more.

Alia read to kids at her local hospital. It made her realize the difference a bedtime story could make.

Photo by Juhan Sonin via Flickr.

When she gave birth at 17, Alia was grateful that her child was strong and healthy. At the same time, she realized that other new parents weren't living that same experience.

"The idea that other families didn't have that really pained me," she writes in an email. I wanted to help them."

Alia would put her son to bed and then, when he was asleep and safely being looked after, drive to Fresno Children's Hospital, where she'd read bedtime stories to children who didn't have company and couldn't sleep at night. She expected the work to make her emotional, but was not at all prepared for the impact it ended up having on her.

"I would cry in my car after all of my shifts," she explains. "I wasn't equipped for the emotional weight of children with poor health. I have the utmost respect for people who can bear that weight comfortably."

It also taught her just how needed volunteers are. They're the people who fill in the gaps in care, fostering close connections with patients who are going through some of the hardest days and nights of their lives.

"I wish people knew how much need there is," she writes. "Walking those empty halls at night, you look into rooms and see people who are scared, lonely, and bored. A few more people in the hall making their way to connect with patients is a huge difference."

"I found the experience rewarding in a lot of capacities. The largest is probably the degree to which it taught me about myself. I valued my son and his health so much. I learned about my emotional limits. And I felt good because I was helping others."

Author Chuck Miceli helped people living in a long-term care facilities express themselves.

Photo by Elien Dumon on Unsplash

He co-coordinated a weekly Poetry group for patients and residents at the Southington Care Center, a rehabilitation and health care facility in Southington Connecticut.

In the group, the residents of the center were encouraged to write and share their own poetry, bring in poems that they enjoyed by their favorite authors, or just sit and listen to the work written by people who also lived there. For many, it was a watershed moment in their recovery. It provided a sense of purpose for one resident in particular — allowing her to see that she was still valued and needed.

"A friend of mine approached me to say that a mutual friend from our church, Joan LaRose, was at the facility," Chuck writes. "I hadn't seen her in years. Now, she was suffering from advanced Parkinson's disease and could not lift her head from her chest, but she still expended the time and effort to write poetry."

"I visited Joan and asked to see her poems. Rather than being bitter or remorseful, they were exceptionally uplifting and beautiful. That motivated me to see if others at the facility might also want to get involved, which prompted the creation of the poetry group."

The group eventually grew and Joan's poems were collected and published in a book that keeps her memory alive. The poetry group is something Chuck reflects on as one of the most positive experiences of his life. It's a reminder of the indomitableness of the human spirit.

"Walking into a nursing or health care facilities can be an intimidating and depressing experience because it is so easy to assume the hopelessness of people's situations," he explains. "It is easy to see what is missing: the physicality, the youthfulness, the mobility, the energy. It is what we don't see, however, that is most important: the potential, the desire to be useful, the lifetime of experience and wisdom, the yearning to be involved."

"Tapping into what's possible instead of being debilitated by what's missing is at once the greatest challenge and the greatest reward."

Jeaninne Escallier Kato, a teacher and writer, volunteered at hospitals during two points in her life. It taught her to think on her feet and let go of her ego.

Photo by Lenny DiFranza via Flickr.

"I have volunteered in hospitals twice in my life," notes Jeaninne. "My volunteer duties included: distributing food and books, feeding patients, teaching and reading to children, managing the play room and holding babies."

"It is all about patient care and compassion. When I was given the task to teach a bedridden child with extreme mental disabilities, I didn't feel like I could handle my emotions. Over time, I let my compassionate nature take over and began to feel the bonds of a strong relationship. That child was so appreciative of my time and attention once a week for three hours, I couldn't wait to get my Saturday hug."

"There's nothing like the feeling of making others comfortable and giving relief. It's another form of love. My advice to those who are considering this line of work is you have to take your ego out of everything because you will be asked to do some very disagreeable tasks."

"Don't do it for you, do it for others. You will soon learn your merit, which resides in the care and love you give freely, because it always comes back two-fold."

Caring for others in need is something we should all make more of an effort to focus on.

Providing comfort to those going through medical difficulties is one of the best ways to help make the world, a brighter, safer, happier place.

So, if you've been thinking of volunteering at a hospital, but had reservation, now might be the time to reconsider. You have no idea how much your efforts will mean to the patients you meet.

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