Indeed, I often find the work for which I am not paid is as rewarding (or more) than the very rewarding work of ministering to patients and the community, my “official job.” And I’m not alone.
Literature shows that there are many benefits to volunteer work. Volunteers who devote a “considerable” amount of time to volunteer activities (about 100 hours per year) are most likely to exhibit positive health outcomes. Volunteer work was found to contribute more to lower mortality rates than high religious involvement or perceived social support. Volunteer work has been shown to provide individual health benefits in addition to social benefits. Volunteer work enhances social networks to buffer stress and reduce risk of disease. Studies have also shown that people who volunteer have lower rates of depression later in life.
Lack of time is one of the reasons we often tend to hear from health care professionals for not volunteering. As a health care professional myself, happiness is all I have felt serving others, especially the underserved. One such place was working at a charitable hospital, Kasturba Hospital in Gandhigram, Tamil Nadu, India. Here is a place where you will mostly see like-minded, service-minded people striving each day to make a difference in others’ life, be it an administrator, staff, a physician or even nursing students. Serving the rural community in itself is a great challenge, but the reward that comes out of that service is a lifelong treat.
At Kasturba, time flies by at the senior citizen center in the hospital as you chat with the seniors in the evenings. Each one of them had an interesting story to tell. It did not take much time to create a rapport with the senior citizens. Once you made a connection, they always awaited your arrival.
Then there was this adoption home at Kasturba. They were babies whose parents left them at the hospital doorstep or those who had lost their parents. As soon as you entered the adoption home and saw the infants/toddlers, tears would roll out as you would think that they are the most beautiful creatures in the world.
Then there was this orphanage home at Gandhigram — about 250 to 300 children: girls and boys of all ages, the happiest kids you ever saw with no worries as they knew they had each other. The kids would bond very easily with each other. Celebrating the birthdays along with them was a real treat, and their handmade bouquet was a signature gift received.
The memories that I have from there are hard to let go. These are memories that money could not buy. Health care volunteer work can transform our societies for the benefits of all people. So how do health care professionals prescribe for hope? Be compassionate. International Volunteer Day is Dec 5 (today). Serving the community should be instilled by parents to their children in younger ages, a value that should be taught at health care professionals’ schools to their future doctors, nurses, public health professionals and allied health professionals. Consider volunteer work whether there is a hospital, senior citizen center, online programs or program that foster/orphan children near you. Were more medical professionals in America to adopt a similar mentality, they’d surely see the benefits as well.
In the words of Mohandas K. Gandhi, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
Nazeera Dawood MBBS, MPH, CCRC is the Health Promotion Program Manager for the Fulton County Department of Health & Wellness.