Volunteering at a children’s hospital is one of the best ways you can give back and help improve the lives of sick children.
But knowing where to get started, especially if you’re new to it, can be challenging. There are many things to think about!
First things first…
Here’s the simplest way to volunteer at a children’s hospital
Search for hospital volunteer opportunities near you. Prioritize children’s hospitals that run “official volunteer programs” and check if you meet their eligibility criteria. Call or send an email to the volunteer department and explain why you want to get involved and where you think you can best help out.
But of course there are a couple more steps involved in the process that you need to know about. So we’ll go into that all in this guide.
Here’s what else we’ll cover:
- Other important things to think about when looking to volunteer
- What volunteers do at children’s hospitals
- The best way to impress at volunteer interviews
As a med student interested in pediatrics (who’s volunteered a bunch of times before), I know how crucial medical volunteer experience with children can be.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.
How do I start volunteering at a children’s hospital?
Before you go reaching out to hospitals, it’s best to first take a step back and think about a couple of practical things. Doing so will help narrow down the time you spend searching. Ultimately helping both parties involved.
Here’s what you need to think about right away:
- Your schedule: how much time can you offer to a program and when are the best days/hours (you’ll want to think as long term as possible).
- Your motivations: why do you want to volunteer? It’s fine to have reasons like “learning more about healthcare” or “learning new things”, just be sure to work them all out beforehand!
- Are you a good fit for volunteering? Not many people are cut out to see children in distress, pain or suffering. You need to have a good idea on if you can handle this and not waste people’s time.
There are also practical considerations like transport (getting to and from your volunteer placement), whether you can afford to work for free (volunteering is unpaid) and what things you’d feel comfortable doing (or not).
So the best advice is to think clearly about all these things before spending the time and effort searching, applying and interviewing for volunteer roles working with kids.
Once you’ve made all those considerations and still feel that volunteering at a children’s hospital is definitely something you want to do, here’s the next best actionable steps to take:
- Search your local area for specific volunteer opportunities (focus on children’s hospitals first)
- Look at general hospitals and enquire if it’s possible to volunteer on neonatal or pediatric wards
- Ask about (or read) the eligibility criteria for the programs (age, occupation, legal requirements etc.)
- Contact the volunteer department (or fill out an online/email application)
- Attend a volunteer interview
To save you time with most of these steps, most reputable hospitals or healthcare organizations have details about their volunteer programs on their websites.
You should 100% read all the info there before diving into the process first!
I’ve put together several guides on regional and city-based hospital volunteer opportunities (including many children’s hospital volunteer programs) on this website.
At what age can you start volunteering?
Each hospital has different rules considering its minimum volunteer age. Typically most programs ask you to be over 18 years of age. But there are a ton of summer programs designed for highschool students (16 and up).
Families of Children with Cancer (FCCO), for example, list a couple of children’s hospitals with teen programs for those aged 13-18.
It’s worth checking hospital volunteer programs individually about their age eligibility regulations.
How many hours should you volunteer?
Most hospital volunteer opportunities usually ask for 3-4 hour shifts at least once a month for a duration of about six months.
Teen programs, due to summer holidays, are obviously shorter (up to 3 months) but may involve more contact hours.
If you want to volunteer more hours, that’s entirely possible. You will have to speak with a hospital’s volunteer coordinator directly about this and also mention it on your application or interview.
If you’re looking to volunteer as a pre-med be aware that Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) generally recommend a minimum of 500 volunteer hours for your application to be competitive.
Obviously more is better!
What about health and background clearances?
Volunteering at a children’s hospital without being verified could put a lot of vulnerable children at risk. For that reason, it’s absolutely fundamental you complete both health and background screenings before you’re offered a volunteer position.
Most hospital programs also ask you to complete drug screenings and show proof of vaccinations.
Some accept court-ordered community service volunteers, but this is exceptionally rare in the case of children’s hospitals.
Again check with the individual program first should you have any doubts about your eligibility.
Do hospital volunteers wear scrubs?
Yes, some hospital volunteers will be asked to wear scrubs. Especially if they’re based in clinical wards where sanitation is paramount.
Obviously it depends on the role, but usually a uniform or scrubs (where required) will be issued to you along with ID.
Some programs cover this cost while others expect you to contribute.
What about orientation or training?
Almost all children’s hospital volunteer opportunities will involve you attending an orientation session or training days.
These are important so that you know the responsibilities and duties expected of you, as well as to ensure everyone’s safety.
You’ll most likely be told about these after your application has been accepted and you’ve successfully passed an interview.
What do volunteers do at a children’s hospital?
Volunteers have varied roles in children’s hospitals. Here are some of the more common things that’s asked of them:
- Play with children (in patient waiting rooms, bedside or playrooms)
- Chaperone (when family or other staff are unavailable)
- Reading, games and arts and crafts
- Other general forms of entertainment
The idea is to give back to kids by taking their minds off the stresses and strains of their illness.
Besides these specific opportunities, more “general” volunteer opportunities also exist in clerical and administrative work, gift shop assistance and more.
It’s rare to get clinical shadowing and research projects in children’s hospitals but volunteering (and getting to know physicians and their patients) can help present opportunities.
This video is a great primer on how volunteering works at a children’s hospital…
It works similarly in Syndey, Australia, as it does anywhere in the world!
What skills are needed to volunteer at a children’s hospital?
Most programs will match your skills and experience to the needs of the hospital.
If you don’t have any skills, a brief training period could help show you how to meet and greet, entertain and assist in more menial jobs in and around a hospital.
For physicians and other healthcare workers there are more dedicated volunteer programs designed to capitalize on their skillset.
Can you volunteer to hold infants at hospitals?
Holding infants or “baby cuddling” is a common volunteer position offered at some hospitals that involves special training.
As you’ll work with premature infants, some with serious health issues, you’ll need to satisfy rigorous profiling by volunteer departments to ensure you’re safe to work in Neonatal Intensive Care Unites (NICU).
Having previous experience as a cuddler can really help advance your chances.
How do I become a volunteer cuddler?
The best way to find opportunities is by following the advice above; searching for specific volunteer programs at children’s hospitals etc.
If there are no opportunities listed then try reaching out to general hospitals in your area and see if they have any positions available. Emailing the coordinators is a good first step.
Make sure you meet the requirements first. You’ll need to be at least 18, satisfy health and criminal background checks and provide up-to-date vaccination certificates.
How do I pass a volunteer interview?
The best way to do well in hospital volunteer interviews is to remain open, honest and professional.
Thinking about the tips offered at the beginning of this article (motivations/reasons etc.) should help.
Here’s what else to think about:
- Dress: business casual is the best way to go for hospital-based interviews.
- List your experience: detail why it’s meaningful for the volunteer-based role.
- Be enthusiastic: if lack of experience worries you, explain that. Coordinators don’t expect everyone to have volunteered before.
At the end of the day, volunteer coordinators want dependable people they know they’ll have few problems working with.
Keeping that in mind should help you land a role!
The best way to volunteer at a children’s hospital is to think through your motivations, check your eligibility and be open and honest every step of the way.
Hopefully this article has helped guide you.
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Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in digital marketing and journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.