At the tender age of 13, I became a “candy striper” (a youth volunteer) in a local hospital in La Paz, Bolivia. I wore the traditional red and white striped pinafore and had the privilege of working in labor and delivery and in the nursery. One of my tasks was to string beads, pink or blue, with the name and place it around his or her tiny ankle. My mother was the head of the volunteer program, and this path led my family to finding by happenstance, or more likely divine intervention, my youngest sister. She was an sick infant who had been left abandoned at the hospital. We became her temporary guardians and eventually were able to adopt her.

These experiences deeply affected my early life and the decision to become a Registered Nurse. It is firsthand that I know, see and experience the value of hospital volunteers. The young ones are no longer called “candy stripers” and older ladies no longer “pink ladies”. All are very special people who volunteer to serve in many capacities throughout hospitals. You’ll find them at the information desk in the front lobby, most likely the first people you meet. They serve as office assistants, escorts and way-finding helpers. They staff gift shops, deliver flowers and mail, and serve beverages and snacks in waiting rooms.

They are often seen in the hallways with a wheelchair, vacant or occupied, as they provide immeasurable services moving patients between departments or to the door and waiting vehicles to take them home. Not long ago on my way into work, I connected an elderly couple struggling with steps and walking with a volunteer who grabbed a wheelchair and settled the man into it. They were relieved to have help, and I was very grateful to the volunteer. His assistance gave me peace of mind for these folks and allowed me the practical matter of punching in on time.

As demands on nursing staffs increase, hospital volunteers are appreciated all the more, and they impact patient care in ways that are often unseen. At Carilion New River Valley Medical Center (CNRV) outside of Radford, volunteers are assigned many duties that enhance the patient and visitor experience. One is to be a “host” in hospital waiting areas, where they support families and friends who have a patient in surgery or testing. Julia Dill, volunteer coordinator, stresses the importance of empathy training with the volunteers, saying: “Our volunteers do almost anything to make it easier for patients or families going through difficult times.”

“Our volunteers range in age from 14 to 100 and are invaluable resources to LewisGale Hospital Montgomery,” explains Rhonda Whaling, volunteer manager. “Their presence throughout our facility helps to ensure a positive experience for both patient and visitor.”

With an impressive resume of academic and personal accomplishments and a humble spirit of service, Ed Jervey is close to entering his 25th year as a hospital volunteer. “I have enjoyed my years volunteering at the hospital as much as anything I have ever done,” he says, referring to CNRV, formerly Radford Community Hospital. He’s been both a volunteer and patient and is the “go-to guy” by several departments for a wide array of projects or advice.

Both Carilion New River Valley Medical Center and LewisGale Hospital Montgomery have youth volunteer programs. Minimum required hours per week is as few as three or four, and like me, it could direct you into a wonderful career in healthcare.

By Ruth A. Turman, R.N.


Hospital Volunteerism
Carilion contact: Julia Dill, 540-731-2428,
or apply online
LewisGale contact: Rhonda Whaling, 540-953-5291
or apply online