The Role of Volunteers in an Oncology Setting

Oncology Nursing NewsSeptember 2018
Volume 12
Issue 7

Unpaid assistants can help nurses maximize their valuable time with patients.

Ashley Hay, BSN, RN

Ashley Hay, BSN, RN

Ashley Hay, BSN, RN

Hospital volunteers, also referred to as candy stripers, a legacy term that refers to their traditional red-and-white striped uniforms, have been a staple of hospital care, with their influence dating back to the 1940s. Their dedication to helping others while generously donating their time is gracious, selfless, and commendable.

The use of volunteers in hospitals has traditionally been geared toward assisting patients and their visitors. A positive attitude and friendly demeanor is a must, along with effective communication skills. Dedication to helping others, patience, and flexibility are also helpful traits to possess in this area of service.


The benefits to becoming a volunteer vary among healthcare institutions. Some hospitals provide volunteer incentives such as meals, employee discount rates, free health screenings, and skills training. For many, volunteering can be an opportunity to gain work experience, especially for those interested in becoming a healthcare provider.

Volunteering can also provide a sense of service, community, and self-worth. Sarah Lim, a premed student and former pediatric hospital volunteer, says, “I really wanted to give back to my community and gain different perspectives and experiences in settings that I may not have experienced myself. I always had a strong interest to be of service to others. I knew that volunteering would also help me develop other skills that I wouldn’t necessarily learn in the classroom.”

The types of work volunteers will experience may vary greatly. “With a patient-centered role, I was more involved with patients and their families,” said Lim. “It was the complete opposite in the outpatient clinic. I was able to talk to the nurses and get to know them, see their interactions with physicians and the interactions with the patients, learn more about the procedures/treatments done, and get more of a feel of the workplace environment.”


Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego in California uses volunteers in traditional and innovative roles within their various oncology settings. Danielle Leonard, CCLS, BS, acting volunteer liaison there, explains her role in orienting new volunteers to the outpatient hematology/oncology unit. “I teach new volunteers how to introduce themselves to patients and families, how to maintain appropriate boundaries, the rules surrounding the confidentially of our patients, as well as cleaning and sanitizing policies.” Her volunteers run blood products, clean beds post discharge, transport patients, and restock and obtain needed supplies.

“Volunteers are a vital part of our team,” she adds. “[In the outpatient clinic setting,] they help the nurses immensely and improve overall workflow.”

Mariemel Gawaran, CLA, volunteer liaison, discusses the patient focus of the inpatient oncology unit volunteer role and how special considerations must be taken with a complex patient population. “Some important points that volunteers are taught during orientation is the purpose of the playroom for our patients. Inpatient volunteers welcome parents and let them know they can take a break if they wish. They allow the child real choices in the playroom to allow them some control over their environment. We emphasize the importance of keeping our activity room a safe and therapeutic environment for our patients. Since our patients are immunocompromised, we also emphasize the importance of cleaning and sanitizing toys in between patient use.”


By using volunteers, hospitals are able to maximize efficiency and better serve patients and families. In a busy outpatient setting, such as the hematology/oncology clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital, volunteers help fill gaps by assisting nurses in doing the tasks they may not always have time to do. With many patients coming and going throughout the day on a high acuity unit, getting help from volunteers with certain tasks can make all the difference in allowing for more nursing time at the bedside.

Hospital volunteers are special people. They choose to spend their time serving those who are ill. Even when not assisting patients directly, they contribute largely to overall patient satisfaction by helping healthcare providers, allowing them more hands-on time with patients and their families.

Ashley Hay, BSN, RN is a freelance healthcare writer and owner of with more than 10 years of nursing experience in several areas of pediatric and adult oncology.

Related Content
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.