arms with blue gloves, reaching in to make circle

Five Benefits of Supporting Clinicians’ Volunteer Work

Akin to churches and schools, hospitals are the cornerstone of a solid community. It’s a given that healthcare is available in the regional hospital, but many hospitals are taking that a step further and reaching out, not only as an organization but by encouraging their clinicians to volunteer services within the community.

A clinician employing his or her talent outside of the hospital walls carries far-reaching impacts and benefits not only the community, but the hospital and its medical volunteers, as well.

Here are just a few of those benefits:

1. Meeting specific needs in the community

According to a June 2011 survey compiled by the National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council, over half of American adults report themselves as having fair or poor health. Within that statistic, some 10 percent of adults also claim they have delayed access to healthcare for varying reasons.

As a community hospice nurse at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Maryland, Donna Farabaugh, RN, wonders, “Where to start? How can I help those in need? There are so many places and people with needs.” Some underserved communities have a need that traditional health care systems cannot seem to fill on their own.

Unemployment, underemployment, poverty and even ignorance may preclude some Americans from carrying health care insurance. They function reactively; if made to choose between dinner on the table and costly preventive medicine, dinner often takes precedence. They may skip important vaccinations and checkups.  The National Preventive Strategy illustrated that the death of 42,000 children was prevented with routine vaccinations--the same preventive strategies that many American children are not able to access.

Volunteer work within these communities helps bridge the gap between health and economic disparities. Those Americans who cannot afford treatment, much less preventive medicine, are the direct beneficiaries of charitable works. “As a valuable member of the community, you cannot just keep taking, you have to give something back,” said Farabaugh.

2. Building positive community (even global) relations

Disparaged community members are not the only beneficiaries of volunteer work – the hospital benefits, as well. Volunteer work, charitable donations and other forms of altruism don’t go unnoticed by key leaders and potential patients in the community. This collaboration fosters positive, long-standing relationships between the hospital and the citizens they serve.

There are myriad types of volunteer work being championed by hospitals across the nation, from charitable donation matching to blood drives and health fairs.

At Tampa General Hospital in Tampa Bay, Fla., nursing leaders have invoked the Clinical Ladder incentive program, encouraging nurses to rise to excellence and become mentors in their profession. This application-only program recognizes volunteer work in the community as one of the steps to nursing excellence. The embodiment of a professional nurse recognizes--and tends to--a need within the community, while representing Tampa General Hospital, according to the program’s description by Leah Godfrey, BSN, MHA, NE-BC, director of nursing operations.

Although they are not typically hospital-sponsored, a number of physicians and residents sign up for medical missions, where they leave their traditional work environments and travel to countries providing volunteer care for indigenous people or those affected by poverty, war or natural disasters. Many hospitals and medical schools have policies in place facilitating these excursions, if not encouraging them for professional and ethical awareness. Facilitation might be as simple as providing a paid leave of absence, or as complex an incorporating these missions as a part of formal medical training and licensure.

3. Lowering overall costs through improved wellness

In 2009 alone, hospital care expenses comprised 31 percent of the national expenditure for healthcare. In alignment with current day health reform, leaders are seeking outreach and community wellness programs, which can cut those costs and increase health throughout the population. Healthier adults and children lead to less overall expenditures for chronic, often preventable, disease.

Hospitals can have an integral part in boosting communal wellness. “Our organization does not only support public activities, such as health fairs, walks, and education, but also actively encourages employees to participate in community health events,” according to John Schwarz, RN, a nursing supervisor at St. Petersburg General Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.

4. Bringing new solutions back into the hospital

Volunteering is a two-way process. The simple act of volunteering, “brings the community initiative back into the hospital focus,” according to Schwarz. This simple act--a little time here and there volunteered, “helps the patient and family advocate council provide better care and initiatives. It invites the community to share their thoughts on how the hospital can better serve the people of the community,” according to Schwarz.

5. Empowering the altruistic clinicians

Finally, encouraging clinicians to volunteer their time in the community has a very basic, and powerful, function: it helps nurses and clinicians of all kinds grow professionally, ethically and humanely. Confined inside the hospital walls, it is sometimes difficult for clinicians to realize the magnitude of support that their talents could provide in a community, if only they are given the opportunity by their employing organization to use these talents for charitable works.

Health, United States, 2011, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

National Prevention Strategy (June 2011), National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council.