What it takes to be a Hospice Volunteer
As the Volunteer Coordinator for Hospice of the South Shore, I coordinate the dozens of volunteers that support patients and their caregivers across the region.
Our volunteers visit with patients in their homes. They provide respite for caregivers, so that they can go out and do errands, go out to lunch with friends, or take a nap in another part of the house. They also visit patients who are in facilities, where the primary goal is more companionship and stimulation. Each volunteer gives about three or four hours per week of his or her time.
In my four years in this role, I’ve learned that there are a few characteristics that most hospice volunteers share:
Hospice volunteers are good listeners
Really good listeners. We have to resist the temptation to offer a lot of advice, whether it’s for the caregiver, family members or the patient. A volunteer is there to listen so that patients can reminisce and find meaning in their life.
Their age doesn’t matter (mostly)
While volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, our volunteers span generations. We have one volunteer who just graduated from college in the spring. More than half of our volunteers are retired. We have other people who are working full-time.
Their passion for hospice care does
One of the common denominators many of our volunteers share is that they have had a positive experience with hospice. Whether that was with a parent, a spouse, a child—really anyone they have cared about that hospice has supported in some way.
Hospice volunteers read
Many of our volunteers are passionate readers. I don’t know why, but it’s something I’ve noticed.
Hospice volunteers understand their role is to be a good neighbor
A volunteer might call a patient or caregiver before heading over and say, “Are we still on today for ten o’clock? Anything I can pick you up at the store on my way over, or would you like a cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts?”
I describe being a hospice volunteer as being a really good neighbor to members of our community.
Hospice volunteers dispel the myths of hospice care
One of the important roles volunteers play, whether it’s at the Walk for Hospice or whether it’s in their everyday lives, is that they spread the word about what hospice care is and they correct the erroneous assumptions that many people have about it.
“Hospice is where they just let you die.”
“Oh yeah, just like in the movies, hospice nurses move in and they’re there 24 hours a day.”
“They don’t give you any medicine for your pain.”
These incorrect ideas float around in our society, and volunteers are important in speaking otherwise to those assumptions.
Hospice volunteers are committed to giving back
Becoming a hospice volunteer requires thorough vetting. Our volunteers go through the same process that South Shore Health employees do. For example, applicants must pass a drug test, have a physical, and have their criminal record checked. Then they have 12 hours of training that is hospice-specific before they visit any patients.
But our volunteers know it’s worth it. When families who’ve been touched by Hospice of the South Shore attend the Walk for Hospice and see the volunteer that supported them there, it’s a fun and moving experience for everyone.