By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
For the Public Health by Renee Hotchkiss, Ph.D.
Volunteering is healthy
Placeholder Image
    Throughout the last ten years of her life, my grandmother knitted hats for the newborn babies at her local hospital.  What she didn’t realize was that this small act of kindness, her form of volunteering, not only benefited those babies and their families but was likely to have improved her own health.  That’s right, volunteering not only benefits the community but it can benefit the mental, physical, and social well-being of volunteers.
    It is well known that individuals become volunteers for the good of others.  They want to give back to a society that they feel has been helpful towards them. Volunteers can provide financial benefits to the organizations where they volunteer, and in the public health arena, at a time when health care costs continue to rise, volunteers offer an opportunity to enhance care without raising costs. The organization using volunteers will experience the benefit of more work done for less money, and the community will benefit from the work being performed by volunteers.  Volunteers also add to the perceived quality of a healthcare provider by contributing to the happiness and comfort of patients, their families and visitors.  They add a human touch to the technical aspect of care.  By supplementing existing staff, they relieve the workload of medical and technical employees.
    In addition to helping others, volunteers receive benefits themselves.  Some benefits are social, meaning that they build upon interpersonal relationships, a desired outcome for older volunteers.  Many volunteers are in some sort of transitional period and seek out volunteering to provide them with social support during a difficult time period.  For instance, many hospital volunteers are newly retired or recently widowed.  Other benefits are personal in that they provide self-fulfillment.  Still others are economic in the sense that they provide networking benefits and work experience for younger volunteers.  In most instances volunteers are giving toward a cause while also gaining from the experience.  In summary, volunteers are likely to experience an improved social outlook.  Their self worth is typically enhanced and their social opportunities are increased.  Furthermore, health benefits have been found to be associated with volunteering.
    In a thank-you card my grandmother received from the hospital the following words were inscribed:
    In a hospital, a volunteer is so much more than "someone willing to give time."  Hospital volunteers are people willing to give their hearts, to share compassion and to apply the grace of love to points of pain and loss.  Hospital volunteers care for tasks that free caregivers to give more and better care.  They are like human capillaries, making certain that the energy of caring arrives safely and efficiently at each point where it is needed.  Hospital volunteers, your work helps people, patients, family members, guests and hospital employees become WHOLE.
    I urge you to seek out volunteer work – whether it’s at the local hospital, local health department, community health center, or elsewhere.  I am certain that, like my grandmother, you too will be pleasantly surprised at the numerous benefits resulting from your small acts of kindness.
    Dr. Renee Hotchkiss is an assistant professor of health services policy and management in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University. She wrote her dissertation is on the impact of volunteerism on hospital performance and continues to further expand her research on the impact of volunteerism in healthcare, health policy, and vulnerable healthcare populations.
Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter