Almost all of us have been, or will be, assisted in some way by volunteers. They are everywhere, giving time, energy and expertise to help others. Altogether they represent a wealth of talent and caring that adds to the safety, improvement, preservation and success of those they serve.
Their impact is both immediate and lasting, and so is our appreciation. They come in all shapes and sizes and are as varied as the stars above. Yet they all have one common denominator, and that is service to others. Because of the intrinsically high value of their services, our gratitude cannot be compressed into one week out of each year. National Volunteer Week (today through April 25) is the time for national recognition, but the gratitude for and recognition of their value is ongoing. As a registered nurse and clinical instructor, I benefited firsthand from their dedication to my patients. As a volunteer, I see them in action in almost all areas of the hospital.
When hospitalized, patients will lose some of their control. Loss of control is devastating but necessary. Patients must eat, sleep, and receive medications and treatments on the hospital's timetable. This is necessary for their health and recovery. Now enter the volunteers. What a contrast. They come in bearing books, magazines, fresh water, flowers and mail. They offer choices: "Here are some beautiful flowers. Where would you like me to put them? Here is the card. Would you like me to read it to you?" You see, they have the option of time that nurses can only dream of.
Because of volunteers, patient care can be started sooner, pain relieved faster, and admissions and discharges handled more smoothly and quickly. They bring admission forms to the nursing stations and patients to their rooms, X-rays from the radiation department, equipment from material management, and the list goes on and on. All of this makes it possible for the nurses' and doctors' care to begin earlier and last longer. This is a big plus for waiting patients.
Volunteers give directions, answer questions and dispense smiles. They are the liaison between nurses and doctors in surgical waiting rooms. You can find them in the emergency rooms, offices, cafeterias, medical records departments, and wheeling patients around. The public's first impression of the hospital is made at the front desk, staffed by volunteers. How comforting to be greeted warmly, have your questions answered and gain confidence in the hospital.
This caring in action has a domino effect of amazing proportions. It affects all departments as volunteers work to free staffers to concentrate on patient care.
Working as a registered nurse, I recognized and honored a simple truth: Nothing is small or insignificant if it involves a patient. As a volunteer, I apply this same concept, and it has the same magic power. I see it all around me as volunteers, with quiet dignity and a smile, serve others. That's dedication.
Ethel Gillette lives in St. Petersburg.