Hospital Volunteering: The Desire to Help Others

St. Mary's Hospital old volunteer uniform

An old volunteer uniform from St. Mary’s.

I get out of my car, put on my blue, blazer-like jacket, stitched with the word “Volunteer” in white. Checking to make sure I have my badge, I proceed to the short walk from my designated parking lot. I walk confidently passing doctors and nurses, up a ramp, and into the small room filled with occupied chairs. I smile and greet everyone as I walk in, even though I know no one. I proceed to the big screen in the corner and type in my number. I take an empty seat and begin my shift as a volunteer at St. Mary’s Hospital.

St. Mary’s Hospital, located on the corner of Monument and Libbie Avenues, is part of a non-profit organization founded by twelve sisters who were affected greatly by the French Revolution. They came over to the United States in 1868 and formed a group known as Sisters of Bon Secours, which in French means “Good Help.” The Sisters’ motive was to aid the sick, poor, and wounded in their households. Over time, they realized that a place where people could depend on for help would be beneficial, instead of visiting each patients’ homes. In support of the new Bon Secours health providing system, The Richmond Community Hospital joined the program in 1965. In efforts to preserve the Catholic faith while providing care, St. Mary’s Hospital was opened in 1966. Bon Secours has expanded all throughout the Richmond area in several different facilities. St. Mary’s Hospital was originally organized and operated by volunteers. Initially, the hospital was founded by volunteers who want to help the sick and poor. The volunteer program at St. Mary’s has been important to the hospital since the very beginning. Without them, the hospital would not exist today.

A collage of pictures of St. Mary's Hospital history.

A collage of pictures of St. Mary’s Hospital history.

This mission of Bon Secours is “a Health System to bring compassion to healthcare and to be good help to those in need, especially those who are poor and dying. As a system of caregivers we commit ourselves to help bring people and communities to health and wholeness as part of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.” Debra Broderick, the volunteer supervisor in the Volunteer Department, expresses her absolute passion for this statement. As a former music therapist, she has always been involved in a caring and comforting atmosphere. In addition to her career in music therapy, she had been a volunteer at several hospitals for 25 years. When a job opening at St. Mary’s came to her attention in volunteer management, she thought it would be a good choice for her because she is a person who “likes to be busy, not bored.” After being offered the job as the volunteer supervisor, volunteer management “seemed to take precedence” in her life. In her interviews with each applicant into the program, she feels like she is contributing to their future. After two years as the volunteer supervisor, she explained how this is the most diverse position she has ever held. Every day in the volunteer office is different, and each volunteer offers a different cultural perspective.

St. Mary’s Hospital’s volunteer program helps not only the patients of the hospital but has a powerful impact on the volunteers as well. Not only is the environment extremely positive, but it’s also inspiring to students who are interested in the medical field. The program is near capacity because of all the students who are interesting in being introduced to the hospital atmosphere. Many students from high schools around the area volunteer there; not with the intent of fulfilling their required hours, but, also as Debra explains, it is a perfect “career exploration” for the students. There are over 1,200 applications a year for the volunteer program. This proves how great the opportunity is for all students interested in medicine, especially VCU students who are enrolled in health career programs. They use this experience as a great start for their future careers as possible doctors or nurses. Each medical student is placed strategically to help in any way in the Oncology department, Emergency department, or the General Services department. Each department creates a special participation experience that is very hands-on for volunteers. Many pre-nursing VCU students have been placed to help in the pre-help center as unit technicians. When they graduate from VCU and need a job, every nursing student, who previously volunteered, can be hired as technicians when they are needed. This program creates perfect exposure that’s “very valuable” to students who not only want an introduction to the medical field, but also a future job at a hospital.

The volunteer program also highly depends on retired adults who devote their time generously throughout the week. With all the students applications each year, the hospital makes sure that “on-board” adults are accepted year round to help out. The hospital depends on the retired adults, and it “can’t operate without them,” said Broderick, explaining the importance of the adults. Each adult contributes different talents from their life that is extremely valuable to the team of volunteers. This program also provides a meaningful part of their time for the retired adults. “They still have a purpose in their lives,” and the time dedication allows them to “give their gifts,” while still having something in their schedule that has meaning.

The previous jobs that some of the adults have had are widely varied. One man was a previous Native American chief, another a vice president of a major company in Richmond, and so many other businessmen and women who needed something to fill their schedule. There are many mothers with kids in school who want something meaningful to do during the day. The hospital benefits greatly because of these dedicated adults who giving their time to fulfill their desire to help others.

Peter Gates, a graduate of UVA, is a current volunteer at St. Mary’s Hospital. As a former computer and informational technician for 26 years, Peter always had a “strong need to provide” as a young adult. Peter enjoys working at the surgical waiting desk because it is a position that aids clinical staff and patient families. After five and a half years of volunteering, he still enjoys his position of Friday evenings and Monday mornings because it keeps him busy and an active volunteer throughout his shift.

Sign to the parking lot for all volunteers

Sign to the parking lot for all volunteers.

I have been a current volunteer at St. Mary’s Hospital since the spring of my junior year. As a student who needed service hours, I decided this program would be relevant to feed my interest in the medical field. I volunteer every weekend and sometimes weekdays after school. I have enjoyed two-hour shifts working in the general services department. Averaging about eight hours a month, I deliver flowers to patients, discharge new mothers with their baby, and help out any way that the hospital needs. I meet a variety of different students from VCU and high schools in the Richmond area. I met a girl at St. Catherine’s whom I have bonded with, since we are both on our varsity volleyball teams. Through our same interests, we volunteer regularly together. I have also enjoyed getting to know adults on Tuesday afternoons, the crossword puzzle day, which happens to be a big deal. My experience has been meaningful, resulting in me meeting many different people I never thought I would have connections with. Enjoying volunteering in the hospital atmosphere, I never imagined the effect that this program would have on my high school career.

All photos by Eleanor Dillon.

About the author

Eleanor is Banksy.