Helping Others is a Way of Life

Helping Others is a Way of Life

By Carla Perrotta

For nurses and others involved in the delivery of healthcare, helping people is not just a job. It's a way of life. They are attracted to the profession because it offers a unique setting in which they can apply their blend of compassion, knowledge and skills in ways that positively impact a patient's health and quality of life.

Frankly, that's part of the frustration and why many are considering leaving the profession. They are seeing administrative and regulatory barriers that increasingly are preventing them from doing what attracted them to their job in the first place.

Nurses, by their nature, are committed to care. And that caring attitude doesn't stop at the door of the setting in which they work. Many are finding a valuable outlet by serving as volunteers for community service projects. The types of programs are as varied as are the participants: mentoring, food banks, blood drives, building homes, training, public outreach and environmental projects.

The benefits

Why should you volunteer? In short, because everyone wins: the beneficiaries of the service, your employer and most of all, you.

Communities benefit from an increase in the number of active and skilled volunteers and greater support for needy individuals and groups. Ultimately, that makes the community a better place to live and work. Healthcare employers also come out ahead. When you volunteer your time and talents to community projects, you put a human face on your organization and help it exhibit its best side: its heart and soul.

Others notice the effort, too. Stakeholders, whether they are vendors, regulators, insurers, employees or patients, want to be involved with a company that is involved in the community and is a good corporate citizen. It compels everybody to higher performance, improved morale and greater team spirit.

Aside from building bridges with others in the community, volunteerism boosts the awareness of the healthcare professions in the community. Traditionally, the nursing profession ranks very high as a trusted profession in the United States, but there is still an appalling lack of understanding about the healthcare field.

Given the growing consternation over consolidations, labor shortages and managed care options, it never hurts to be a goodwill ambassador and polish the healthcare image by promoting a feeling of generosity.

But above all, you win. By giving generously of your talents in caring for those less fortunate, advancing causes you believe in or inspiring others to reach their full potential, you find a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in your life. You gain a sense of pride and satisfaction from seeing the difference you make in others' lives.

The more well-rounded you are, the more fulfilled and happier you will be both in and out of your job. Although it may sound trite to say, by focusing on those that are less fortunate, your problems don't seem as pressing. That, in turn, helps to relieve some of the tension from the work environment and grounds you to the core values that attracted you to the healthcare field to begin with.

In fact, noble though their aims and results may be, many service organizations get bogged down by some of the same bureaucratic problems that frustrate you professionally. Seeing this will add valuable perspective to your "day" job.

Volunteering may help you cope with another key professional shortcoming: the lack of advancement opportunities. While not everybody aspires to management, they are looking for opportunities to grow personally and professionally. Volunteerism helps you build leadership, project management, presentation, communication and people skills. Not only are these proficiencies easily translated into the professional arena, but they will enhance your job performance and satisfaction.

Many community projects require volunteers to work cooperatively in teams to accomplish tasks. Such teams often involve a diverse mix of company and community representatives, spanning a variety of ages, races, cultures and working styles. You can harness the teamwork skills learned in volunteer activities to help build a more collaborative environment on the job. This may help to get rid of the task orientation and evolve into a continuum of care that many healthcare professionals prize.

How do you get plugged in?

In any community, there are tremendous needs that are going unmet. There are numerous organizations that depend on volunteers in order to operate. There are even more groups and organizations that have special areas of their business where people can volunteer. It can be a bit overwhelming.

Many times, finding time to volunteer is difficult because you think you're too busy--and because you think volunteering means spending hundreds of hours with a certain project.

Here are some tips to smooth your transition into community service:

  • Pick a project or a cause that you believe in. You will be far more willing to volunteer your time in those areas that are important to you.

  • Identify projects that will allow you to take advantage of your distinctive skill sets or that will help you develop the competencies you want to enhance.

  • Determine how much time you can contribute.

  • Find out as much about the organization's goals and objectives as possible.

  • Put your heart in the right place. Don't do it for the attention or the publicity--then your heart will be in the wrong place.

  • Look for ways to volunteer with co-workers, friends or family members. Not only does that give you a ready support network, it nourishes those relationships.

  • Do it! It won't "just happen." You have to take the first step.

Carla Perotta has 22 years in the healthcare staffing industry and is responsible for all business operations related to Kelly Healthcare Resources, a business unit of staffing provider Kelly Services Inc., based in Troy, Mich. Kelly Healthcare Resources provides healthcare staffing solutions to hospitals, clinics, businesses, healthcare facilities, insurance companies, HMO's and clinical research organizations. For more information please visit