Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Considering becoming a nurse? Five volunteering opportunities that allow you to gain relevant experience

In the wave of awe we have all felt watching nurses put themselves in danger to care for coronavirus patients, many of us have questioned the worthiness of our own careers.

It appears to have led many people to consider entering the caring professions themselves, inspired to follow in the footsteps of the people we serenaded in the streets with weekly applause.

The NHS Health Careers website saw a 220% rise in people expressing an interest in becoming a nurse, it was reported in May.

“The biggest global health emergency in a century has put a huge spotlight on the crucial role of nurses not just in the NHS but also in social care,” NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said at the time.

By June that had already translated into a 6% uplift in the number of student nurse applications, Nursing Times reported.

If you’re one of the people wondering if shifting your own energies into the caring professions would be a wise and fulfilling step, volunteering can help you on your way.

Taking up a relevant volunteering post is a way to try-before-you-buy and get a taste of the work. It is also advised for anyone trying to gain a medical school place as a way of showing commitment and aptitude.

The NHS Health Careers website says: “Some time spent volunteering is not only a good way to enhance your experience, but it also demonstrates your empathy and commitment to a career in medicine.”

Seek out an opportunity within the NHS

What could be a better way to gain some insight into the realities of life as a nurse than to volunteer with the NHS?

There are hundreds of volunteering opportunities within the NHS itself, many of them in patient facing roles in hospitals.

NHS England says most health based volunteering opportunities are coordinated locally. It advises going to the web page of your local health organisations to find out more.

Roles for volunteers can vary widely. In hospitals it may include offering breastfeeding peer support, supporting patients to complete rehabilitation exercises, helping to feed patients, being a listening ear and providing befriender and companionship services or helping patients to get dressed and get moving.

Not only is volunteering a good step towards a caring profession but can also be a very rewarding experience in itself.

A Kings Fund study, published in 2018, found that 74% of staff felt volunteers added a lot of value and 90% of patients felt they did.

St John Ambulance first aider

One of two organisations specifically mentioned on the NHS Health Careers website as a good place to consider volunteering (the other being British Red Cross), St John Ambulance has been providing first aid and first aid training for 140 years.

The charity runs emergency response services, first aid cover for events and a community first responder scheme - training and recruiting people to provide first aid in their local area in the vital moments before an ambulance can arrive. 

St John Ambulance volunteer roles include those:

  • within its ambulance service, which transports 100,000 people every year.
  • as event first raiders where all training is given and there are opportunities to gain additional skills as an advanced first aider of Cycle Responder
  • Being dispatched to 999 calls by your local ambulance service to provide emergency treatment to people in your local area before the ambulance arrives

British Red Cross independent living volunteer

Another organisation with a decades-long history, British Red Cross has been operating for 150 years to support people when crisis strikes.

Volunteer roles include driving ambulances and ‘independent living volunteers’ who offer practical and emotional support to help people remain living at home.

Independent living volunteers may work with people who have recently left hospital and are still rehabilitating, older or disabled people or those facing mental health challenges, for example. It is a broad role that could involve helping around the house, collecting prescriptions or shopping or accompanying someone in a social activity.

Alcohol Health Champion

Alcohol Health Champions work to encourage their own social circles and wider community to drink responsibility and reduce their alcohol intake.

They also seek to promote, back and spark local action on alcohol, such as through interaction with their local authority over planning applications or alcohol related by-laws.

The role was developed as a part of a ‘Communities in Charge of Alcohol’ project which was developed in Manchester, where alcohol and drug harm is significant.

The position has now been rolled out to other areas and includes a two-day training programme with the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and an RSPH Level 2 Award in Understanding Alcohol Misuse.

Samaritans listening volunteer

Frontline health workers deal with a vast amount of emotional and mental health issues as well as the physical ones.

Samaritans listening volunteers take calls from people in emotional crisis and provide support. Volunteers develop listening skills and learn how to help manage difficult conversations.

Full training and a mentor scheme is in operation.

All of the above are just initial examples of some of the roles available across the country in caring roles for volunteers.

In your local area there are likely to be many organisations who would be keen to have a dedicated and enthusiastic volunteer and allow you to soak up learning opportunities.

Hospitals, hospices, care homes, your local council or community and voluntary service are a few places to start looking. Good luck!