What Makes a Good Hospice Volunteer?
By: Dr. Margarita David DNP, RN
People become hospice volunteers for many reasons. For some, volunteering is a form of gratitude for the help they received when a loved one was ill, and others volunteer as a way of making a difference in their community. Hospice volunteers are an essential part of the hospice care team as their support and care can make a difference in dying patients’ and their families’ lives.
Why do hospices need volunteers?
Hospice patients and families usually perceive volunteers as regular members of their local community because that is what they are. They provide the patient and their family with a feeling of normality while providing both emotional and physical assistance, connecting with the patient and their family on a personal level. Since they can spend an extended amount of time with patients, volunteers can give the hospice care team valuable insight into the progression of the patient and level of comfort.
What do hospice volunteers do?
As patients progress in their final days, it can become harder to do certain tasks. Therefore, hospice volunteers are an integral part of the hospice team. They provide support and comfort to patients and families during these tough times. Hospice volunteers provide the following to patients and families:
Hospice patients are in the final stages of their life. Some may not have family members to rely on, so you may be the only person they can talk to. Hospice volunteers provide companionship to patients with activities such as reading, taking walks, or providing their friendship by just being present for the patient.
Hospice volunteers can provide holistic therapies with the patient, such as music therapy, singing, meditation, light massage, or even bird watching.
You are there to make the patient’s last days as comfortable as possible. Hospice volunteers can run light errands for the patient, including food shopping, walking a dog, watering plants, or even light housekeeping.
Hospice volunteers offer emotional, spiritual, and social support to the patient. Many times, patients may not have anyone to talk to about their life. As a hospice volunteer, you offer a listening ear for the patient to review the life they have lived.
Some patients are not able to prepare meals due to health status, so hospice volunteers can assist with light meal preparation. Additionally, they may help with feeding the patient if the patient is unable to feed themselves.
The families of hospice patients often care for the patient on a 24-hr basis, 7-days a week, and are usually very tired. Hospice volunteers help provide the family with a much-needed break from caregiving duties and help care for the patient. The help can be in doing light household cleaning, running errands, or direct patient care. They help serve as a way for the family to rest.
Hospice volunteer training
Volunteers who work directly with patients and families must complete hospice training before becoming a volunteer. This training is important because caring for dying patients can become an emotional and exhausting process. The training includes:
Becoming a hospice volunteer comes from the genuine desire to provide peace, comfort, and care to patients and their families during the end of life. Understanding the impact that you will make in the patient’s lives during these last moments can guide you to know how to care for them. The patient and their family will be grateful to count on someone to help them during these difficult times.
As you care for these patients, you may develop an emotional connection to patients and their families. As a result, it is important to maintain professionalism while caring for patients.
Coping with grief
Hospice volunteers will have a good understanding of the end-of-life process as you will serve as their companion during those final days. How to cope with grief is an essential component of becoming a hospice volunteer.
Patient health privacy
Hospice volunteers must understand the importance of always maintaining the patient’s privacy and confidentiality.
Qualities that make a good hospice volunteer
When helping patients during the last stages of their life, there are qualities that a hospice volunteer needs to have when caring for hospice patients. Hospice volunteers possess qualities that include:
Hospice volunteers have supportive listening and conversation skills. Many hospice patients will speak about their life, family, regrets, and accomplishments. This is a sensitive time for these patients, and many just want a listening ear.
Understanding of grief and death
There is an opportunity to learn and help hospice patients transition to finding peace. Therefore, as a volunteer, you should have a good understanding and acceptance of death and dying to control your emotions.
Boundaries help provide the safest care possible in the therapeutic relationship between the hospice volunteer, patient, and family. Having these boundaries may make it easier to detach from the patient and family once the patient is deceased. Therefore, understanding the physical and emotional limits of the relationship between the patient and the hospice volunteer is essential.
Who can be a hospice volunteer?
Any individual who would like to volunteer is welcome to apply. The application process will require a background check, complete the orientation and training sessions, and a valid driver’s license.