Monday, November 07, 2011

[Vital Signs Column] The New Face of Volunteerism

Issue 8 Vol. 1 |  October 01-15, 2011 Issue
Vital Signs, is the FIRST newspaper for the medical community. It caters to doctors, health workers and other healthcare professionals, bringing them the latest health news, scientific updates, as well as opinions, and commentaries on current issues impacting healthcare delivery in the country. You can read Alvin Dakis' columns on nursing & social issues in every Vital Signs newspaper published every 1st & 15th of the month. 

It has been 10 years since I have been volunteering my services, time, and resources to the community. I remembered how I toiled hard to defend the things I advocated and having to experience grave poverty, threats and character assassination. Ten years, and still in the running.

I volunteered my services for free to people living with HIV and to those who have been newly diagnosed. I also have offered my services to help youth organizations manage & run their organizations. Having to have these things done, one would think "what has gotten into you?" But time and again I also ask that question. Why do we volunteer?

Volunteerism seemed to be a very benevolent act and an individual would need to decide for him or her self since it would require you great time, effort, talent, time and resources. But a volunteer may lend his or her time & resources either part-time or full-time. And the range of voluntary service may vary according to the advocacy.

Volunteerism is a selfless act to help those who are in need. However I think the nursing profession has started to use the term wrongly. Recently, new nurses would approach hospitals and render their free services - sounds benevolent isn't it? Wait till what happens next.
These nurses assume the name "volunteer nurses" since by the nature of their work in the hospitals. To add to it, some of these nurses have offered their payment in exchange for this 'volunteer act'. Seeing the opportunities of augmenting their staffing needs and at the same time receive additional pay from these desperate nurses, some hospitals now charge nurses fee for their services & to others cloak these schemes into "training programs" to justify their charges or fees. 

But I won't talk about the training fees nor the volunteer programs of the hospitals. I would like focus my column to the nurses who continue to patronage these kinds of programs, which by the way I find very exploitative. Let me elaborate on this.

Many of the nurses I asked, who volunteer their services in these hospitals, told me that the reasons why they volunteer are to:

1. Gain clinical experience. Because many of these newly registered nurses felt their evident lack of experience in clinical practice during their college years. Upon graduation & passing of the nursing boards, these nurses still felt their lack of confidence in performing basic nursing care skills. This tells us one thing, there is a problem in our current nursing education that produces these nurses.

2. Increase individual marketability. Engaging in this 'volunteer' practice would gain them not just the experience but also that paper certificate. And oh boy you'd die to get one of those. These paper certificates saying that you have given voluntary service to these institutions are thought to be their green passes to gain local employment and even work abroad. Little did these nurses know, that it has little effect to increasing one's 
"employability" and marketability. 

3. The hopes of being favored for employment. These 'volunteer' nurses also thought that volunteering to these hospitals would give them an extra boost compared to other nurses who did not volunteer in that hospital when there will be vacancy only to find out that this, similar to number 2 above would account to only such a small fraction for consideration. 

But with all these things how come the term "forced volunteerism" has been coined? Since this issue, a lot of terms have been used and this "forced volunteerism" tells us that since many hospitals implement "volunteer" programs or pseudo-"training" programs nationwide, our newly-registered nurses are left with only one choice: to grab the program and go with the flow - if not, you can't work in the hospital.

Time and again I've been telling my colleagues, my fellow nurses, to do not patronize this kind of practice so that we can demand the hospitals to employ nurses instead of allowing them to continue implementing these programs and get nurses for their free services, and to some even ask for fees.

Volunteer nurses, aside from the gain on increased confidence in bedside skills, will not gain any other advantages. Volunteer nurses work and function closely similar to paid and employed staff nurses. They do not earn anything from their work, and they are also not considered employed by these hospitals. Any mishandling of patients on the part of the volunteer nurse will not be shouldered by the hospital since they are not legally liable to them. However, nurses under this program can be legally charged, sued and when proven guilty, may be imprisoned and have his or her license revoked.

Also, when volunteer nurses get sick or become infected from their current workplace, the hospitals will also not shoulder expenses for medications nor hospitalizations. Nurses patronizing this practice do not see these huge disadvantages and only focus on such a small glimpse of false hope. 

I still fervently hope that my colleagues will see that this kind of practice, may it be not deemed illegal, but is exploitative in nature. I hope that they start to see the bigger picture and consider the integrity of the profession in a bigger spectrum and not be blinded only with a falsely cloaked "advantage" in gaining clinical experience. 

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