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When I was studying for my A-Levels I was thinking about careers and I looked at being a nurse or a midwife. So I applied to my local NHS hospital to do voluntary work hoping this would give me an insight into the role of a midwife. I also needed to pad out my UCAS form a bit!
The application process: You need to start by writing/e-mailing/telephoning the Voluntary Services Department at the hospital. The department will usually consist of a manager and a co-ordinator who is there in an administrative support role. You then need to go in for an interview and discuss where you would like to work. Next comes Criminal Record Bureau checks, an Occupational Health Clearance and a reference check. And then you must attend mandatory and very boring hospital induction! This process can take up to two months. You also generally need to be aged at least 16.
Why volunteer in the NHS? If you want any kind of healthcare career, be that being a nurse, doctor, physiotherapist or one of the many other roles in the NHS, you need work experience. Places on these courses are very competitive and you need some form of extra curricular activity to put on your application form, be that working in a care home or as a nursing auxiliary. Many people volunteer instead, even though it isn't paid it offers you an in-depth look at the NHS without the hours and commitment you would need to put into a paid job. It also looks great on a CV whatever career you go on to do, helps with personal development and can be very rewarding. A lot of volunteers are also retired people.
By volunteering, in theory, you do all the basic and boring tasks that free up trained staff to concentrate on the tasks they are skilled for. You can also help patients a lot and make their hospital experience less stressful.
What does a volunteer actually do? The role can vary a lot and can include: Helping on wards - talking and helping patients - Assisting with meals on the wards, general errands for both staff and patients, e.g. collecting items prescriptions from the pharmacy. Welcoming patients arriving at the main hospital reception, helping to run day clinics, doing clerical and administrative tasks or volunteering in the WRVS shop, which most hospitals seem to have.
What do you wear? Most hospital Trust's provide their staff with t-shirts and you wear your own black bottoms and sensible shoes. Volunteers must wear their ID badges at all times.
Help with expenses: The hospital will also pay any travel expenses you incur. You also get a discount on food in the canteen. Many Trusts will also hold a yearly party for their volunteers.
My experience: I worked 4pm-7pm twice a week on the Maternity Ward. I generally sat on the reception desk or nurses station and answered the phone or door or did basic clerical tasks such as making up information packs. I found the nursing auxiliaries to be very friendly and sometimes I would shadow them and help them make beds, prepare rooms and push the tea trolley! I would also run errands to other wards and the pharmacy. To be honest, I didn't particularly enjoy the experience finding it rather dull. There seemed to be plenty of ward clerks and nursing auxiliaries around I felt I got in the way.
The staff: Whilst the nursing auxiliaries and ward clerks were generally very pleasant, I found the opposite to be true of the medical staff. The midwives were generally quite dismissive of my desire to be a direct entry midwife, apparently they 'are all rubbish' and the best route to midwifery is to be a nurse first and then do a conversion Midwifery course even though by this point I had no desire to be a nurse. They moaned about how busy they were yet had plenty of time to drink copious cups of tea and gossip about their patients! I was never given a chance to observe the midwives even though I politely asked. I found an awful lot of the hospital staff to be rude, unhelpful and unfriendly.
The NHS: Volunteering also opened up my eyes to the huge financial deficit in the NHS, poor staff morale, poor management and abuse to staff from patients and carers. In short, not a place I really wanted to be employed by!
Bidding adieu: After 6 months I decided to say goodbye. I had seen enough and decided a career in healthcare was not for me. I wrote a polite letter to the voluntary services manager and handed my badge in. If you are serious about a career in healthcare and are unhappy with your placement I suggest discussing this with the manager and moving departments. If you want to be a nurse you are probably better off being a part time nursing auxiliary-at least you get paid, get to carry out clinical tasks and get trained!
There is no doubt that volunteers are vital to the NHS and most do a great job and provide a valuble service to patients. This is just my experience, please don't let it put you off! I would do it again in the future if I had spare time to commit but work on a different ward.
*Update* I have now started to volunteer again on a Monday evening on a Care of the Elderly ward. I find this very rewarding and think that the patients enjoy having someone to chat to-the nursing staff are always too busy.
It's a shame the nursing staff were so dismissive.
littlepenguin 14.03.2010 23:18
A very interesting review. I am hoping to volunteer at a youth centre soon, but they have taken 4 months to sort everything out!!
An E from me! =)
dynamicnurse 14.02.2010 18:50
It was interesting to read your comment on healthcare not being the thing for you, but it is nowo good to hear that you have changed your mind! Let me know if I can be of any help at all, if there is anything that I can do.