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Hospital volunteers work without regular pay in a variety of health care settings, usually under the supervision of a nurse. Most hospitals train and supervise volunteers through a specialized non-profit organization called an auxiliary. The director of the auxiliary is usually a paid employee of the hospital.
A hospital volunteer is sometimes nicknamed a candy striper. This name is derived from the red-and-white striped jumpers that female volunteers traditionally wore in the United States, which resembled stick candy. The name and uniform are used less frequently now.
In the United States, volunteers' services are of considerable importance to individual patients as well as the health care system in general. Some people volunteer during high school or college, either out of curiosity about health-care professions or in order to satisfy mandatory community service requirements imposed by some schools. Still others volunteer at later stages in their life, particularly after retirement.
Candy Stripers originated as a high-school civics class project in East Orange, New Jersey, in 1944. The uniforms were sewn by the girls in the class from material provided by the teacher - a red-and-white-striped fabric known as "candy stripe". (source: interview with Adele M. Huck, a student in the class). The students chose East Orange General Hospital as the home for their class project.
Duties of hospital volunteers vary widely depending upon the facility. Volunteers may attend in staff reception areas and gift shops; file and retrieve documents; provide administrative backup; assist with research;help visitors; visit with patients; or transport various small items like flowers, medical records, lab specimens, and drugs from unit to unit.
A few hospitals ask their volunteers to help out with janitorial duties, like cleaning beds. Other "advanced volunteers" include patient-care liaisons and volunteer orderlies. These volunteers must operate on the orders of a nurse or a physician and are given special training to permit them to work with patients. They are also more common in large hospitals, particularly university-affiliated hospitals and teaching hospitals, as they allow pre-medical students to gain experience in patient care while taking pressure off a busy care team.
Some hospitals manage their volunteers from a dispersal unit and assign them to tasks based on real-time labor demand, while other hospitals assign volunteers to a single unit for the duration of their service. Female volunteers traditionally wore pink-and-white jumpers, while male volunteers traditionally wore light-blue tunics or shirts over dark slacks. Today, male and female volunteers often wear a uniform shirt or a short-sleeved shirt with slacks. Some volunteers (particularly "advanced volunteers") will wear scrubs, but this is usually avoided so volunteers are not confused with medical personnel. All volunteers wear ID tags within the hospital and these will prominently indicate the volunteer's status and position.