How to Volunteer at a Hospital

Portrait of Candy Striper; woman
There are many ways to serve if you decide to volunteer at a hospital. You probably won't be wearing a candy striper uniform, though.
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A hospital can be a scary place when you're the one who's sick. But when you aren't sick, you can volunteer at a hospital and bring others much-needed hope and happiness. Nothing feels as good as a warm smile or calming conversation when you're ill. You can give that kind encouragement and support to people of all ages when you give your time to a local hospital. You'll be brightening someone's day -- and yours in turn.

You may not realize how many volunteers are involved in the inner workings of many hospitals. For example, at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., volunteers donated the same total amount of hours as 15 full-time employees in 2007 -- and that was just one set of volunteers for one set of projects at the hospital [source: SJCRH]. There were many other opportunities to serve, and volunteers eagerly filled those needs.


Many hospitals offer volunteer programs according to age. At Children's Hospital in Atlanta, there are programs for adults, college students, teenagers and children. The hospital also offers one-time volunteering jobs and opportunities to volunteer in specific neighborhoods. You can also work within groups such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. If you want to give back but don't think you can commit to a schedule, you can also volunteer by donating books, money or other items to hospitals.

In this article, you'll learn about hospital volunteer requirements and training, volunteering duties, and the benefits of giving your time or donations through hospital volunteerism. Read on to learn about the kinds of tasks volunteers can perform at hospitals.


Hospital Volunteer Duties

Hospitals offer endless ways to volunteer your time and talents. You can usually volunteer at a hospital to visit with patients, be present in recovery rooms, greet visitors and patients, or work in the gift shop or cafeteria. You can also work with transportation, in the library and within special groups, such as oncology or hospice. But beyond these basic volunteering options, some hospitals offer unique services.

At the University of Chicago Medical Center, you can volunteer to knit. Yes, you read that right. Knitting, crocheting and stitching have become a fun, rewarding way to volunteer your creative energies to a hospital. The Forefront Stitchers make blankets, pillows, shawls, hats and other handmade creations for patients.


At the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the staff recognizes that artwork can have healing properties. Volunteers lead interpretive tours of the various artworks on the Mayo Clinic campus. The Mayo Clinic also has opportunities to volunteer with the Peregrine Falcon Project at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. Patients and visitors at the hospital are encouraged to submit baby names for new chicks, and volunteers select new names from the choices.

At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, you can volunteer to make sock monkeys for pediatric patients. You can also volunteer as a baby cuddler. If you have an idea that isn't listed at your local hospital, talk to the volunteer coordinator about starting your own volunteer group or service. Most hospitals are eager to come up with new ways for the community to get involved, so your ideas should be welcome.

Before you jump into volunteering, however, you'll probably have to meet a few requirements. What do most hospitals require of their volunteers? Read on to find out.


Hospital Volunteer Requirements

Typically, you can't just walk into a hospital, sign up to volunteer and start that day. Hospitals carefully screen their volunteers to ensure the health and safety of their patients. If you live in a small town, you might be able to volunteer more easily because you know the doctors and the organization. But in larger cities, you're going to need to do some legwork before you can join the volunteer program.

Depending on your hospital choice, you might need to complete a few steps before you can become a volunteer. In general, most hospitals require some kind of health screening, such as testing for tuberculosis, measles, chicken pox and illegal drug use. At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, you'll need to fill out an application, attend a volunteer orientation session, go through the health screening tests and interview with a volunteer services staff member. Once you've been accepted, you'll work for 10 hours at the Volunteer Services Office before being moved to your placement choice.


At the University of Chicago Medical Center, you need to be at least 16 years old to volunteer. You'll also have to take the health screening tests and be willing to donate at least four hours of time each week. At the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, you'll also need to fill out an application and attend an orientation. The best way to learn about your hospital's requirements is to check the volunteer section of its Web site or call the hospital directly.

Read on to learn the specifics of hospital volunteer training.


Hospital Volunteer Training

You're never going to be perfect at something the first time you try, and that's why hospitals offer volunteer training to new recruits. Depending on your hospital, you could attend a one-time umbrella orientation session that trains you on the specifics of your volunteer function, or you might need to sign up for additional training throughout your time at the hospital. One thing is certain -- you won't be thrown into the new job without some assistance. Most hospitals will show you exactly what they want you to do.

At the Massachusetts General Hospital, you will be trained on wheelchair safety, standard hygiene protocol, body mechanics, fire safety and patient confidentiality. You'll also learn about timekeeping, the dress code, cell phone usage and absences. Many hospitals offer multiple training times. At Florida Hospital, there are training sessions throughout the month. These last for two hours, and you can register for them online.


Depending on your assignment or interests, there may be additional specialty training involved. If you're going to serve coffee at a kiosk, you might not need too much training. If you're going to be working in a special clinic, however, you'll probably need more guidance. At the Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif., for example, you'll need special training to work as an autism intervention tutor. This training will teach you how to use structured teaching approaches, interact with patients and use developmental play.

Once you've completed your training, you're ready to become a full-fledged volunteer. Read on to learn about how volunteering can enhance your life.


Benefits of Being a Hospital Volunteer

You'll reap many rewards by volunteering at a hospital. You get to see the smiling faces of the patients you're helping and know that the work you are doing is making a difference. Along with the feel-good rewards, you can also receive some additional benefits, depending on your hospital. At the University of Chicago Hospital Medical Center, you'll receive the following as a volunteer:

  • Free parking
  • Reduced employee rates at the UCMC Academy for enrichment classes
  • Participation in the Annual Volunteers Recognition Banquet
  • Free health screenings
  • Free skills training for your volunteer position

At the Mayo Clinic in Florida, you'll receive a quarterly volunteer newsletter, free flu shots, invitations to social events, complimentary meals, discounts at the gift shop and pharmacy, and access to employee activities and classes.


If you're looking to launch a career in the medical profession, volunteering at a hospital will start you off on the right foot. You'll get hands-on training and make lots of professional connections.

Whether it's performing simple administrative tasks or hosting a fundraising event, anyone who volunteers at a hospital will affect many lives for the better.

Visit the links on the next page to learn more.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Centers for Disease Control. "Questions and Answers about TB, 2009." 02/10/09. (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "Ways to Volunteer." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Children's Hospital and Research Center Foundation. "Upcoming Events." 2009. (Accessed 02/27/09)
  • Children's Hospital Oakland. "Volunteers: Areas Where Volunteers Serve." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Florida Hospital. "How to Volunteer." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Forefront Stitchers. (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Mayo Clinic Arizona. "Mayo Clinic Volunteer Services in Arizona." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Mayo Clinic Florida. "Volunteers: Benefits." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Mayo Clinic Minnesota. "Art Tours." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Mayo Clinic Minnesota. "Peregrine Falcon Project." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • Mayo Clinic Minnesota. "Volunteer Groups." (Accessed 05/27/09)
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  • Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary. "Candy Striper." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. "Volunteer Recognition: Did you know…?" (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • University of Chicago Medical Center. "Donate or Volunteer." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. "Community Volunteers." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. "How to Become a Community Volunteer." (Accessed 05/27/09)
  • University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. "Sock Monkeys." (Accessed 05/27/09)