You’re looking to give time back to your community and help others. But with so many options, what’s the best way?
Is volunteering at a hospital worth it?
Hospital volunteering is definitely worth it if you’re interested in healthcare careers. Doing so will help give you a clearer idea of what the roles of physicians, nurses and other clinical and administrative staff are like. But hospital volunteering isn’t great for everyone. Depending on your circumstances, there could be better ways to give back.
We’ll go deeper in this article.
Here’s what else you’ll learn:
- Who hospital volunteering is best for (and who it isn’t)
- What the pros and cons are
- If it helps with future opportunities
- What other people say about hospital volunteering
- How to get started
As a med student who understands the value of hospital volunteering, I know how important answering each of these questions can be.
Ready to learn more? Let’s go.
Pros and Cons of volunteering at a hospital
2. Minimal commitment
3. Valuable support and care
4. Networking opportunities
2. Time commitment
3. Mundane/routine tasks
4. Limited practical experience
Obviously each of these benefits and drawbacks depends on the volunteering role itself. Some programs offer exceptional support, training and opportunity to develop new skills. Others aren’t so “hands on” and supportive.
The benefits you get from hospital volunteering are mainly down to what you make of it. Approach the role with professionalism and enthusiasm, and good things could come your way.
But there’s no promise!
You can’t expect that every program will give you clinical experience, help you learn new things or able you to “meaningfully” give back.
So it pays to think about the question first before applying and wasting your (and volunteer departments) time and effort.
Who is hospital volunteering best for?
Hospital volunteering can be great for people looking to learn more about healthcare and the day-to-day activities of nurses, physicians, medical assistants etc.
For those people, a low-level commitment (just a couple hours per week) is a good trade-off for gaining better insight into what life is like working at a hospital or clinic.
Especially when you consider the cost of medical education and how much could be wasted making the wrong decision!
Suddenly not getting paid doesn’t seem so much of a con.
Here’s who else hospital volunteering can be suitable for:
- People with a flexible schedule: who can work around other commitments
- Retirees looking to make friends/learn new skills: most programs offer training/orientation
- High school students, teens or pre-meds: looking to work out if working in healthcare could be for them
- General public looking to give back: helping support patient care can be very rewarding
On the flip side, hospital volunteering might not be a good idea if you’re broke, put-off by the hospital/clinical environment or have zero interest in helping sick individuals or their families. Or if you’re particularly squeamish.
In that case you’re much better off doing something else!
Does volunteering at a hospital look good?
Volunteering work is essential in helping put together a competitive med school (or similar) application. Hospital-based volunteering even more so, given the clinical setting.
For those not interested in med it can still look great. Especially to potential employers who see you’re willing to offer up your time, learn new things and take on responsibilities.
How good it looks obviously depends on how well you’re able to explain or write about your volunteer experience in cover letters or interviews. Hitting on the benefits above (responsibility, training, commitment etc.) can really help with that.
If you’re going for a job in healthcare (pharmacy tech, EMT, phlebetomy etc) it can be a massive help. It’ll show:
- Familiarity with a hospital environment
- Experience dealing with patients
- Proven capabilities being part of a healthcare team
- Professionalism and compliance
The list goes on…
One thing that can help your hospital volunteering look even better for these roles (especially if it was a clerical/administrative role and not overly focused on patients) is networking.
It also helps in getting those letters of recommendation (LOR’s).
How much do hospital volunteers get paid?
Most volunteer programs are unpaid. It’s very rare to find a paying gig given the number of people who are willing to give up their time for free.
A definite con if you’re experiencing financial issues.
Even if hospital volunteering can be a stepping-stone to paid clinical/health work further down the line.
Are hospital volunteers annoying?
Due to its link into full-time education or work, hospital volunteers can sometimes seem annoying.
Compared to volunteers committing their time purely for altruistic purposes (to help the community/patients etc.), students doing it solely for recommendations or to “tick a box” can seem irritating.
As can people who don’t apply themselves in the role, only causing more work for others in having to be managed, trained etc.
Here’s how best to not be annoying:
- Use your iniative: apply your skills, don’t wait to be asked
- Be positive: don’t complain about being there just to “meet a prerequisite”
- Show up and meet the commitment: don’t waste people’s time
- Don’t expect anything: just because you volunteered doesn’t mean the hospital (or its staff) owes you anything
Being a volunteer involves just as much of a commitment for a hospital to you (training, support etc.) as it does you for them.
Don’t take the opportunity for granted.
Volunteering at a hospital: Reddit’s opinion
Having discussed the finer points of whether hospital volunteering might be worth it, let’s take a look at what actual volunteers have to say.
Reddit is always a good place to head to get honest, unbiased opinions.
Hospital volunteering isn’t as meaningful as actually working in the field (especially with a certificate/degree), but it has value.ferdous12345
I had 750+ hours (and a sweet pin) at my main hospital when I applied and that was viewed as significant. I was actually a bit sad to leave when I started medical school.sopernova23
I really love my hospital volunteering position. Yes, some of the work might be “cookie cutter,” but at the end of the day, I get to be apart of someone’s experience. I get to have the opportunity to make someone feel like a person who is valued, even if just for a few minutessjm880
I volunteered at a hospital and after a while they asked me to train other volunteers as the lead volunteer in my department. Good leadership opportunity in addition to clinical experience.navcmb
My hospital volunteering experiences provided really, really important patient interaction stories in my interviews. Really glad I did it.TomRiddle__
The consensus is overwhelming. Hospital volunteering is definitely worth it if healthcare (and helping others) is something you’re interested in!
How to make the most of hospital volunteering
If you’ve read this article and think this is something for you, here are a couple of tips that can help:
- Try and volunteer in ER (or other clinical wards) if you’re a pre-med: the extra experience can help!
- Come up with ideas/events to help those around you: to help make others’ jobs easier (ask for permission first)
- Put people’s needs first: you’re there to serve others (not the other way around)
- Take the time to engage patients, staff and those around you: there’s no knowing where these interactions can lead
- Don’t let one experience dictate your general view: your volunteer program might not be ideal but it’s important to remain open-minded!
That last point is particularly important.
Not all hospital volunteering jobs will be exciting or interesting. But it’s important not to judge an entire industry (or several careers) based off one experience.
Hospital volunteer jobs
Finally, how do you find these volunteer programs?
The best way is to look for hospitals/clinics in your area and read about the volunteer programs they offer. Then check you fit the eligibility (they’re not open for everyone) and fill out an application.
Click here to see opportunities near you.
Hospital volunteering can be a great way to give back, meet new people and learn new skills. But it’s not for everyone!
Hopefully this article has helped clear up who best can benefit and who else might be better off doing other things.
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Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in 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.