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Hospice Volunteer Training. Category: Advice & Ideas

I thought that when I became a volunteer, it would be as simple as approaching my chosen agency, saying, “I want to volunteer”, telling them in what capacities I was willing to serve, convincing them that I was a good and honest person, and it would be done. Sometimes it amazes me how simple life is - in my head, at least.

I am in my second week of volunteer training for hospice. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. The experience is proving to be nothing like I expected.

I thought that it would be mostly middle-aged women. Our group is composed of 8 women. Of those, half are actually middle-aged, two are in their forties, and the other two appear to be in their early thirties.

I expected a lot of informational material, given in the form of mini-lectures. Our group, however, is extremely interactive. There is definitely informational material being given, along with a lot of group dialogue. We discuss feelings and emotions surrounding the issue of death. We talk about family dynamics, and past experiences. We share our stories and sometimes, our heartbreaks. We also watch videos. These are not videos that the average person would find entertaining. These are stories about the end of life, told by the people who were dying. We also listen to various speakers, all team players in the hospice program, and we hear about different scenarios that can go on in the homes of the clients. These team members talk about what the hospice experience has been like for them as nurses, client bathers, social workers, and caregivers.

We laugh a lot in our little group; and we cry. We are free to explore the deepest and most poignant feelings that we have about death and dying. If we are going to sit with people and families in the death process, it is best that each of us know who we are at our depths. We need to explore what we have to give, and what we hope to get out of the experience. The families that hospice volunteers work with are looking for a calming influence, for some respite in the care giving, and for a little bit of comfort. As a volunteer, we are taught what the boundaries are in interacting with families, and what needs we may encounter. Through all of this training, we are constantly looking inside of ourselves to see what is really there.

I had imagined that there was a set of “rules” or parameters that we would follow as volunteers. You can do this, but you can’t do that. The only rules that we’ve been taught, however, are that we cannot dispense medication, and we cannot tell our clients or their families what we think they should believe or how they should act. No judgment, period. Death is a uniquely individual experience, and families process it differently according to their own personal value systems, lifestyles, and beliefs. You can no more presume to know what is best for someone in this situation than you can in any situation of life. People process events differently. The role of the hospice volunteer is strictly to be there for the family. We can basically do anything that the family needs us to do, as long as we feel comfortable doing it. If we are not comfortable with a request, we simply need to state that. As volunteers, we are not bound by things that we have to do. It is up to the family and their needs, and our own comfort levels.

I look forward to my first volunteer assignment. I have some pretty definite feelings about the death process, and I feel that we can do a tremendous service in helping others to make the transition as smoothly and peacefully as possible. I also understand that this type of work is not for everyone. I would, however, highly recommend it to anyone who feels that they could serve others in this capacity.

About the author: Rita Ballard, GVA, C.Ht. is a licensed hypnotherapist and the owner of Healer's Helper, a virtual assistance business providing administrative support services to healthcare professionals. For more information, please visit www.healershelper.com: Virtually Restoring Balance, One Task At A Time!

Readers' comments
I live in Vancouver, Canada and have wanted for some time to be a Hospice volunteer. I need to know how to take that first step?? I feel it would help myself and also want to help others in this period of transition. blessings to you, bel
-by wbargent@shaw.ca
I live in Vancouver, Canada and have wanted for some time to be a Hospice volunteer. I need to know how to take that first step?? I feel it would help myself and also want to help others in this period of transition. blessings to you, bel
-by wbargent@shaw.ca
I'm a Hospice Volunteer Coordinator in Central Montana and in the process of planning our annual training. Thanks for the insight from a student of becoming a volunteer. I always want to keep the training fresh and the writer made my job a lot easier. Thanks.
-by Candace Bowman
all you have to do is just find a hospice in your area and contact them. They will send you everything you need and will help get you started.
-by liz
There is now a program for online training of hospice volunteers. The transcripts are sent to the volunteer and to the hospice where they choose to volunteer. More info can be found at hospicevolunteertraining.webs.com This program was developed because so many people want to volunteer and have no idea what the next step is. After 32 years in health care, I have seen many prospective volunteers lost because the training could not be customized to fit their schedule. I hope this helps those wondering what to do next to get started in this blessed facet of volunteerism.
-by Robin Watts
As a volunteer coordinator for over ten years, I understand the need for training to be online. However, sitting around a table of prospective volunteers gives me incite into how a particular person interacts with other people. This is so important when placing a volunteer with a patient or family member. Getting to know the people representing your organization can only be done with hands on training and personal interaction. I do offer daytime or evening trainings, whichever fits the group of volunteers to be trained. A lot of discussion takes place around the training table.
-by Patra Sengsy, Volunteer Coordinator for Hospice of Miami County, Ohio
I am a chaplain at our local hospital. I would like info on where to go for hospice training to broaden my abilities.
-by Tommy

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