The variety of volunteering

July 03, 2006
Louise Howell is an all-purpose volunteer at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. As a former registered nurse for more than 30 years, she now serves as a volunteer nurse in the Ambulatory Surgery Unit. She also helps deliver flowers, transport patients, knit baby caps for newborns and lend a hand on other special projects when she’s needed. To top it off, her husband, Gary, is a volunteer Courtesy Van driver. The Howells, who both began volunteering in 2003, are examples of the variety of volunteer opportunities available at New Hanover Regional and its affiliates, such as Cape Fear Hospital, Zimmer Cancer Center and the Hospital Hospitality House. “I just wanted to have something to do. I didn’t want to sit at home and rock in a chair,” explained Mrs. Howell, who has logged in more than 1,500 volunteer hours. “I’m never, never bored. There’s always something to do.” Howell is still a licensed nurse, even though she is retired. She is one of 23 nurses serving in the Volunteer Nursing Program, which began at NHRMC in March 2005. This unique opportunity allows North Carolina-licensed nurses to work hands-on with patients, providing support and an extra pair of hands for staff nurses. Volunteer nurses typically work four to six hours a week and are able to offer patients more personal time than a full-time staff nurse can - time to sit and chat, time to listen or even play a game if the patient feels like having the interaction. “I loved every minute of it,” she said of her years in nursing. “I just missed being with patients and around people. You miss it when you’re not doing it anymore.” With Howell’s clinical background, she is able to work up to a nursing assistant level. She transports patients to their vehicles after their procedures, checks vital signs and does whatever else the nurses ask of her. As a volunteer nurse, she is able to give patients more “extra” attention than a busy staff nurse may be able to. “Sometimes maybe a patient’s family isn’t there yet and they want someone to talk to, or sometimes I’ve just sat there with them without saying anything,” she said. “Believe it or not, just having two extra hands around helps.” No matter how big or small the task or the skill level required, all volunteers have the ability to make a patient’s otherwise stressful experience more bearable. As many as 750 volunteers actively work at New Hanover Regional, but there is always a need for more. “There’s only so much cleaning or golfing a person can do after retiring,” said Linda Mueller, volunteer adult coordinator. “Then, they realize they need something in their lives to find fulfillment and structure. They can get that here.” Currently, the Volunteer Department is seeking additional patient transporters, guest greeters, gift shop assistants, courtesy van drivers, people to staff the information desks at Zimmer Cancer Center and Family Surgical Waiting and licensed nurses for the Volunteer Nursing Program. For more information about volunteering, click here, or call 343.7784. A volunteer coordinator will interview you briefly over the phone and help you find an area that is suited to your interests and skills.