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Changing faces of hospital volunteers

For the second consecutive summer, Anamaria Caradine, a junior at Vardaman High School, drove almost an hour each way to volunteer at the North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC) Cancer Center, a place that’s close to her heart.

In recent years, she visited the cancer center when her father and grandmother received treatment, and now with her grandfather.

“I know they need help,” said Caradine. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Casey Gargus of Guntown, 16, spent summer mornings volunteering in NMMC’s education department, scanning documents into a computer, shelving medical journals, preparing paperwork for upcoming classes and summarizing participants’ evaluations afterward.

“I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but now maybe an office job in a hospital,” she said. Plus, “I get to help a lot of people. It’s better than staying home and cleaning house.”
Caradine and Gargus were among the 72 students who arrived at NMMC the first week of June for an intensive orientation session with Carla Enis, volunteer services director. From there, they were assigned to nearly 20 sites throughout the NMMC campus in Tupelo, Pontotoc and Baldwyn.

“Although no student can administer any form of direct patient care, they can certainly help with comfort measures for patients and also see how the hospital works,” said Enis, who thoroughly interviewed each student volunteer, facilitated their tuberculosis skin tests and well-versed them on patient confidentiality beforehand.

As the number of adult hospital volunteers across the nation continues to steadily decline, hospitals are turning to new recruitment tactics for all age groups, particularly students.

“Many students are trying to determine their career path, and volunteering allows them to get a feel for areas in which they’re interested,” said Janet Crecink, interim director of volunteer services for the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. “Also, even though they’re not making volunteering a requirement, many med schools, dental schools and nursing schools are making sure that volunteer hours are included on résumés for acceptance into these schools.”

According to a survey by the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center released in May, 62% of 26 academic hospitals contacted had experienced a shortage of older volunteers who had been their mainstay for years. No longer are traditional retirees giving 20 to 30 hours a week to hospitals. These baby boomers are working longer, enjoying more active lifestyles, doting on grandchildren, and taking part-time jobs to supplement incomes. And when they do volunteer, they’re being pickier. “Sorry … that’s food bank day,” a volunteer told a hospital volunteer coordinator in Denver for U.S. News & World Report.

“The old adage, ‘If you want something done, give it to a busy person,’ is true,” said Becky Hill Martin, volunteer coordinator for Central Mississippi Medical Center (CMMC) in Jackson. “Volunteers are some of the busiest people I know. Today, they have more opportunities than ever before and it’s often a competition to recruit them.”

Many hospitals have adapted their volunteer programs by creating flexible schedules and offering other perks.

Katherine Pittman, director of customer service at Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg, has focused on attracting volunteers across demographic lines since taking the role of volunteer coordinator in 1999. “We have volunteers from ages 18 to 88,” she said. “The majority of them are retirees, but we also have quite a few students from Southern Miss. We haven’t seen a lot of growth because there’s been some turnover, but it’s fairly stable. If I need something, I’ll usually put the word out among my 1,200 employees and they’ll put the word out in their churches and communities. That approach has probably been the best one.”

Martin said the number of volunteers at CMMC has remained steady since Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates (HMA) acquired the hospital seven years ago.

However they’re recruited, volunteers play a vital role. “They add a little extra touch,” said Pittman. “They’re usually very loving and caring people with a bent towards helping others.”

Enis pointed out that volunteers “are an absolute necessity in healthcare.”
“They’re our ambassadors to patients, families and the community,” she said. “They’re invaluable.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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