More than 1,000 active volunteers help to enhance the experience of patients and their families at BC Children’s and BC Women’s hospitals.
Volunteers are often the first to greet patients and families when they walk through the doors of the hospitals. They help direct patients and families to the right clinic or program, offer children games and toys to play with while they wait in outpatient clinics or provide support to care providers in a wide range of programs from the neonatal intensive care unit to the daycare centre at Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.
Pat Gillis, the Manager of Volunteer Resources, says her youngest volunteer is 16 and her oldest is in her early 90s. They volunteer for a variety of reasons, she says, from students wanting to gain experience and insight into the health care field to retirees who want to give back to the community.
All volunteers must go through a comprehensive application process that includes interviews and reference and security checks. Volunteers then complete a privacy and confidentiality course, orientation training and additional training if their assignment requires it. They are also subject to a three-month probationary period. Despite the screening and training requirements, Gillis says there are currently more than 660 people on the volunteer waitlist.
“Do it,” says 91-year-old volunteer Janet Wilson. “There’s no better job in the hospital.”
Janet first decided to volunteer after she retired from her job at a physician’s office. She has served in a number of volunteer roles, including president of the BC Children’s auxiliary, president of the BC Women’s auxiliary and a board member of the BC Women’s Hospital Foundation. Currently, she works one day a week at the BC Women’s Still Fabulous thrift shop on Main Street.
Daphne Cole, who has been the volunteer manager of the BC Children’s gift shop since 1982, agrees with Janet about the benefits of volunteering.
“I feel very fortunate and I’m glad they still want me to do it,” Daphne says with a smile.
For other volunteers, it’s a chance to gain insight into the health-care field and to connect with others.
“Handing out stickers or blowing bubbles can bring joy to a child’s day,” says Nina Ni, a UBC student who is an outpatient fun cart volunteer. She says volunteering at the hospital helps her to break out of her daily routine as a student and to gain experience and a greater perspective.
Fellow fun cart volunteer Kash Hanjani says it’s also been a great opportunity to find out if a career in medicine is ultimately what he would like to pursue after he graduates.
“I have seen what a difference a physician can make in the life of a child and that motivates me,” he says.
Maryam Momen and Karen Parmar are also UBC students and good friends who volunteer together at the busy information desk in the BC Children’s lobby.
“I enjoy connecting with people and providing assistance in any way I can,” says Maryam.
“Helping people makes happy,” says Karen.
Pat, who has managed volunteers for BC Children’s and BC Women’s since 1991, says one of the best rewards is seeing volunteers grow and develop through their experiences.
“It’s hugely rewarding to see a volunteers who start with us as a high school students return as third year medical students or pediatric physicians,” Pat says.
April 10 to 16 is National Volunteer Week and according to Volunteer Canada, 12.7 million Canadians contribute close to 2 billion hours.
“Volunteers truly enhance the patient and family experience,” Pat says.