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How to Volunteer in a Hospital – What You Need to Know About Medical Volunteering Abroad

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

There are several different reasons that inspire people to volunteer, and these reasons can be as varied as the different types of volunteering opportunities offered. Out of many such opportunities, volunteering in hospitals and providing volunteer support in medical and healthcare facilities are prominent ones.
Nothing feels as good as a warm smile or calming conversation when you’re ill. You can give that kind encouragement and support to people of all ages when you give your time to a local hospital. You’ll be brightening someone’s day — and yours in turn.

There are a number of ways you can volunteer your time at a local hospital while on a gap year abroad. Depending upon your education background, area of interest, and experience of handling cases, you are assigned to a fixed program. Placements under these medical volunteer projects can be at remote locations; such as village clinics and hospitals. Which will give you a challenging opportunity to work at the grassroot level.
Through this article, I’ll try and explain hospital volunteer requirements and training, volunteering duties, the  benefits of giving your time through hospital volunteerism, and how to be a successful medical volunteer.
Volunteer Duties At Hospital
Hospitals offer endless ways to volunteer your time and talents. You can:
●   Provide support to the local healthcare professionals in their on-going care and treatment for the local rural community people.
●   Assist local doctors and staff in basic tasks such as checking weight and temperature, cleaning wounds and also doing administrative tasks at the placement.
●   Accompany the doctors during village and home visits.
●   Check blood pressure, suture wounds, and do rounds.
●   Assist patients with activities, such as getting them from one service point to another.
●   Provide general assistance to the medical staff wherever required, and wherever experience and expertise allow
But beyond these basic volunteering options, some hospitals offer unique services. For example, under the  medical volunteer program in South Africa, a volunteer can work in areas of maternal health, surgery, laboratories, counseling and testing etc.  As a volunteer you can also be a part of awareness programs conducted by the local doctors and nursing staff.
Requirements To Be A Volunteer At A Hospital
Typically, you can’t just walk into a hospital, sign up to volunteer and start that day. Hospitals carefully screen their volunteers to ensure the health and safety of their patients. The best way for you to experience medical volunteering abroad is by registering through a placement agency. They know this side of altruistic tourism very well, and will provide you the best suitable project according to your educational background and experience level.
Many of the medical facilities that you may volunteer in are clinics and dispensaries in remote locations. Because of the scarcity of skilled staff at hospitals in such areas, this is where your efforts will be utilized in the most optimum manner.
However, there are certain pre-requisites to joining any medical volunteer program abroad. These may include, but are not limited to:
●   Must be 18 years old or above.
●   Be a pre-med or medical student; or have relevant experience in healthcare field, such as, nursing, nutrition, dentistry, physiotherapy, etc.
●   Need to provide a copy of their certifications/credentials, along with their passport copies.
●   Come with a flexible attitude for working in a new cultural set up.
●   Should possess the requisite enthusiasm and energy to continue in the project.
●   Should be medically fit to travel and volunteer.
Orientation and Hospital Volunteer Training
It is good if you have a prior experience of medical volunteer work abroad, but if it’s your first attempt, you need to have a proper understanding of the entire prospect. Here is where volunteering through a placement agency would come really handy.
Before beginning with your volunteer work, you will be required to attend an orientation session conducted by the local coordinator (a resource appointed by the placement firm) and a team of professionals at the placement hospital.  The orientation will cover many topics such as hospital policies and procedures, volunteer requirements and expectations, and the history and mission of the hospital.
Whether you are a pre-med student or a medical professional, one thing is certain — you won’t be thrown into the new job without some assistance. Most hospitals will show you exactly what they want you to do. The medical staff and other resources are always there to guide and help you in order to execute your task in the best possible manner. So, let’s say, you are accompanying the in-house staff for an awareness program in a village community. You’ll be thoroughly briefed about the exact agenda and desired outcomes from the awareness camp.
Benefits of Being a Hospital Volunteer
You’ll reap many rewards by volunteering at a hospital. You get to see the smiling faces of the patients you’re helping and know that the work you are doing is making a difference. Along with the feel-good rewards, you can also receive some additional benefits, depending on your hospital.
If you’re looking to  launch a career in the medical profession, volunteering at a hospital will start you off on the right foot. You’ll get hands-on training and make lots of professional connections. Whether it’s performing simple administrative tasks or hosting a fundraising event, volunteering at a hospital can affect many lives for the better.

Being a Successful Hospital Volunteer

In order to make your program a success, there are certain aspects of volunteering abroad that you need to keep in mind. Starting from:

Be Professional

Although you are not an employee, you should still be professional. Show up to work on time, treat patients and visitors with respect, report any unsafe conditions, and do not use your cell phone while working. Your professional conduct contributes to a safe environment for both you and the hospital patients, visitors, and employees.
Also avoid giving your contact information to patients and visiting with them outside of the hospital. Professional boundaries can become blurred when you share your personal information, and crossing this boundary can cause patients to become dependent on you, make you feel burdened or stressed, and cause you to be less objective when helping the patients and families.
Unless you are required to touch the patients as part of your job, you should avoid any physical contact. Refraining from physical contact is for the safety of both you and the patient.

Always Follow the Rules
As a volunteer, you must respect the privacy of all the patients at the hospital. Do not share any patient’s medical information, name, address, phone number, or any other identifying information with anyone.  If you want to tell someone a story about your work at the hospital, be careful not to include the patient’s name or any specifics in your story.
You are also responsible for knowing and following the other policies and procedures (e.g. emergency procedure, infection control, etc.). If you are unsure about something, consult your volunteer handbook, your supervisor, or the volunteer office.

Refrain From Accepting Gifts
When you volunteer on a regular basis, you may begin to develop friendships with some of the patients and families. Patients and families will be grateful for all the help that you provide and may try to show their gratitude by giving you a gift. However, volunteers should never accept gifts from patients. If a patient gives you something, try saying “This is very nice of you, but I cannot accept this.”
Although you are not a paid employee, you are still considered a professional. Accepting gifts can compromise the relationship between you and the patients. For example, some patients may expect special treatment or favors from you after you accept a gift. Also you do not want to pass germs back and forth, and some hospitals even have strict policies around gift giving which could cause you to lose your volunteer position.
Being a volunteer in hospital is a great way to give back to society. And the fact that you are doing it on international soil, during a volunteer trip abroad, can increase its value. To sum it up all for you, in order to execute a successful and meaningful hospital volunteering abroad, one should:
●   Know their department of interest in healthcare (nursing, dentistry, physiotherapy, administration, etc.).
●   Find a suitable volunteer placement organization which offers the program you are looking for.
●   Understand the requirements to be an eligible medical volunteer.
●   Register for your desired project with the placement agency.
●   Do thorough research about the destination where you are traveling to volunteer.
●   Be attentive during your orientation sessions. Make sure you  ask many questions before beginning your volunteer work  and clear all your queries.
I hope this information will help you find the perfect medical volunteer program and guide you through volunteering in hospital in the best possible way. Keep traveling, keep volunteering!