Nursing is like no other profession. Similarly, a student nurse is like no other student.
The life of a student nurse is a delicately balanced seesaw; with studies and practice at one end and with family and social commitments at the other; restricted by the off-duty and pre-determined by academic timetables and limited annual leave.
Everything else, from cleaning to holidays, falls in between and needs to be carefully planned to avoid the tipping of the scales. Spare time is often taken up with paid work, not always in a health-related area, but always as a necessity to keep on top of bills and must-haves which a bursary or loan is unable to cover.
So then, why do so many HEIs and employers suggest that student nurses take part in volunteer work knowing how little available time there is? How important is it to make time for volunteering? Is it even relevant to nursing? Does it improve my portfolio?
I work part-time to fund my studies but I am also a strong believer in volunteer work. These are some of the reasons why (in no particular order):
1. It is incredibly rewarding. You will not only get to spend time with people who are facing or have overcome incredible obstacles and challenges, but you will also spend time with people who have freely given an immeasurable amount of time and support to help. You will feel inspired, humble and grateful to be in a position where you can also make a difference in your local community or further afield…whether it is volunteering, raising awareness or fundraising, it shows empathy, kindness, compassion and a commitment to ‘give back’.
2. Volunteering provides an opportunity to meet people and be involved in causes which you may not otherwise be exposed to during placements. Most placements will be specifically catered towards your branch and whilst it is an NMC requirement to have some exposure to other branches, volunteering allows you to get hands on experience and a working knowledge of areas which your course may not otherwise provide. This is invaluable in understanding nursing in a wider and holistic context. It is empowering!
3. It is a great for networking. The more people you meet in different areas, the more doors you will open for yourself. You may find that your interests sit in something completely unexpected and if that’s the case, you will already have the contacts to potentially pursue your dream job! This shows assertiveness!
4. Volunteering is completely flexible. You can choose to volunteer one hour per week, one hour per month or longer. Days, evenings or weekends. You could choose to assist in an online support group, help out at a day centre or coffee morning, befriend, run a marathon to raise awareness, or even do a skydive to raise funds. Whatever suits you! This shows the ability to be flexible, adaptable and also dependable - definitely skills which will come in handy throughout your nursing career.
5. It is an education in itself. Volunteering is the ideal way to find out what you’re really good at and to gain new skills. Do you want to be a future NHS leader? Fundraising for a charity event and confirming sponsors displays leadership, negotiating and influencing skills. Are you interested in a Research position? Volunteering to carry out telephone questionnaires and collate the information shows great communication and analysis skills. Do you want to work in palliative care? Volunteering as a befriender will provide excellent working experience.
There is something for everyone. Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Get involved!
Ruth Perez-Merino is in her first year studying adult nursing (degree) at Manchester Metropolitan University.