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Volunteers: Valuable and Free
Ann Geier
Publish Date: October 10, 2007   |  Tags:   Staffing

Ann Geier, RN, MS, CNOR Many basic tasks important to the daily functioning of your facility don't require the time and attention of your professional staff. Small and not-so-small things like filing forms, greeting patients, comforting families and making coffee all need to get done every day, but certainly not by a nurse or a tech. Here are some examples of how you might put a volunteer to work in your facility.

Ann Geier, RN, MS, CNOR\

  • Greeter. A friendly and smiling volunteer who greets patients and their families in the waiting room will make a great first impression of your facility. Provide your volunteers with a patient-arrival list and train them to answer common questions that arise during check-in. Make your volunteers aware of patient-confidentiality guidelines; hold their actions to the same standards of your full-time staff.
  • Creature of comfort. Volunteers can comfort patients and their families. Just as your nursing staff calms patients when they're taken behind the OR doors for their procedure, a gregarious volunteer soothes nerves in the waiting room. Volunteers can also freshen pots of coffee and ensure new magazines are rotated through the periodical rack. You'd be surprised how far these considerations go in raising patient- and family-satisfaction levels.
  • Staff liaison. In addition to providing comfort, volunteers are a great way to bridge the gap between staff and a patient's family when loved ones are in the OR. I recommend setting up a tasteful desk in the corner of the waiting room to serve as the volunteers' base; also provide a phone with a direct line to the clinical staff. Volunteers can't, of course, provide any clinical information with regards to treatments or procedures, but they can seek answers to basic questions a family member might have.

Another valuable service a volunteer can provide is to take notes of what family members are wearing or what they look like. This makes it easy for volunteers or staff to approach family members in a discreet manner if you need to discuss an issue. In addition, the volunteer can quickly and quietly gather a family member if a physician needs to consult with them for any reason. I can't tell you how much surgeons appreciate this timesaving measure.

  • Gofer. Let's face it, every facility needs a gofer. Mundane jobs are vital to the daily functioning of your facility, but no one wants to be saddled with having to complete them. I'm not suggesting you abuse your volunteers, but you should feel comfortable asking them to do such basic tasks as assisting the business office staff in assembling blank charts, and in sorting and filing medical records. They can also run charts, supplies and the like to different areas of your facility.

Where to find them
Talk to your staff - they often know of people who'd be perfect to fill a volunteer opening. In addition, a recommendation about a prospective worker by someone you know is often the key to a good match. Also work through church and civic groups to spread the word about volunteer opportunities at your facility. Retirees are often looking for something to do with their time and are happy to be of service. Local high schools are also a wonderful resource for finding volunteers. Students may be happy for an opportunity to fulfill service requirements for civic or social clubs.

Carefully interview volunteer candidates. Ask meaningful questions during the interview: What's their perception of a surgery center? What would you do if (give them customer service-related scenarios)? Consider how a potential volunteer dresses, speaks and interacts with staff when you walk her around the facility.

On the volunteer's first day, introduce her to each member of your staff. Take her on a tour of the entire facility, and point out the areas she can't enter (ORs, the sterile corridor). It's also a good idea to have her sign a confidentiality agreement.

Make new volunteers aware that your staff will rely on their services, so they must be punctual and dependable at all times. Let them know that they'll be representing your facility whenever they're within its walls, and they therefore must exhibit excellent customer service skills. Be specific; the less doubt you leave about your expectations, the better. For instance, if there's some downtime during the day, will you let your volunteers read the paper at the reception desk? I know you wouldn't accept that. Make sure your volunteers know it, too.

Part of the team
Above all, make sure volunteers feel welcome. The effort you make to ensure they feel a part of your center is directly proportionate to how much they'll be inclined to project a positive image to patients and families. Reward your volunteers with praise and thanks - instead of a paycheck.