Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students shouldn’t expect to gain clinical experience as hospital volunteers

Volunteers mostly perform busy work
AMISOM Public Information/Flickr

Many high school and college students look to engage in volunteer activities for various reasons. Some volunteer to get involved in their communities, some volunteer to develop their skills and others to gain experience in a particular field. I, like many other students who wish to work in the medical field, volunteered for the last of those reasons. For students like me, who wish to pursue a career in the medical field, volunteering in a hospital sounds very appealing. However, despite having volunteered at three different hospitals, where I have been assigned various tasks, I have not gained any valuable clinical experience. All three hospitals where I have been a volunteer have been relatively large organizations, and my experience at each has been drastically different.

The hospital that I first began volunteering at had me working as a patient greeter. The job description involved greeting patients, guiding them toward the departments they needed to reach and sometimes helping the staff with small errands. The hospital had advertised the volunteer position as a way to gain clinical experience, but I rarely had the opportunity to engage with patients for longer than 30 seconds. I mostly performed insignificant work that any other hospital worker could have done.

My second position as a volunteer involved being a “patient pal” along with another volunteer. This “patient pal” position was simply busy work that the hospital had invented for its volunteers. One can imagine that a patient would not necessarily want to make small talk with volunteers during a stressful hospital visit. Most of the times, the “patient pal” interactions left both the patients and the volunteers feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

My third experience as a hospital volunteer had me working in the dialysis department. Even though this position was more immersive than the previous two, it still did not provide me with any valuable clinical experience. I mostly performed tasks, like stocking supplies and answering phone calls, that were part of the nurses’ job description. In addition, I constantly had to be careful to not get in the way of any of the nurses’ work. It became clear to me that this was another form of busy work that the hospital had provided me with.

The blame for a lack of meaningful volunteer opportunities for students who are interested in medicine, however, cannot be placed solely on hospitals. Most high school and college students are too young and too inexperienced to be given any real responsibilities in a hospital setting. Hospitals also need to be careful regarding the liabilities that their volunteers hold. In addition, it is difficult for hospitals to assign roles and tasks to volunteers and integrate them within the hospital system when the existing system of healthcare workers already functions well.

The consideration of this lengthy list of issues leads one to ask why hospitals even go through all the trouble to provide volunteer opportunities for young students. And this is where one must remember that most hospitals are private businesses. Having a volunteer program provides hospitals with a good reputation within the community. In addition, it is an easy way for hospitals to obtain unpaid workers who would also make good representatives as the “faces” of the hospital.

It is clear that I have not had the best time trying to obtain clinical experiences as a hospital volunteer. However, that is not to say that I have not gained any experiences at all. I learned to work with other volunteers and gained a better understanding of the healthcare system as a whole. Therefore, I wouldn’t completely write off hospital volunteering, but I would take it with a grain of salt if a hospital claims to provide clinical experiences for its young volunteers.

Rithika Senthilkumar is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • P

    Priyanka SureshOct 19, 2018 at 10:46 am

    I guess the situation is the same in other fields as well; volunteers are considered as free workforce and not future workforce – which makes all the difference to how they manage their volunteers