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Volunteering to help your career

Volunteering to enhance your career

Volunteering is a great way of helping those in need and giving something back to society. At the very same time it provides fantastic opportunities to gain new skills, knowledge, experience, and connections, which could enhance your existing career or help shape a completely new one.

How volunteering could help with your career

Just some of the many advantages of volunteering for your career include:

  • Gaining access to free training, resources and materials
  • Learning new skills or enhancing existing ones
  • Expanding your knowledge of certain healthcare related issues or health conditions 
  • Gaining experience of working with new or different patient groups
  • Bridging knowledge/experience gaps that you might have otherwise found tricky to fill.
  • Making connections and widening your professional network
  • Regaining confidence if you've been out of work or experienced set backs in recent employment.
  • Influencing a new career path or getting your "foot in the door."

It's also a great way to find out whether you feel suited to a particular environment and gain insight into working within certain fields.

Skills you could learn

In nearly all cases, the organisation or charity you volunteer with will offer free training, and you could gain transferable skills and experience within areas such as:

  • Communication
  • Budgeting 
  • Research
  • Advocacy
  • Campaigning
  • Public speaking or presenting
  • Leadership/management
  • Negotiation and influencing 
  • Mentoring
  • Education
  • Project management

How volunteering can help you personally

Evidence suggests that volunteering brings benefits not only to the people being helped, but also the volunteers themselves, aiding with:

  • Self esteem
  • Confidence
  • Self-worth
  • Sense of purpose
  • Social integration
  • Overall quality of life

Examples of volunteering to help your career

  • You want to apply for a job in a hospital, but feel cautious as you haven't worked on a ward for a long time. Most NHS trusts offer volunteering opportunities such “befriender volunteer," "ward volunteer," that you could explore.
  • You are interested in working in sexual health but don't have any experience. You could volunteer with a local sexual health charity, school/university, or sexual health service. See Jodie Bridges' career story as an example.
  • You want to gain more knowledge of a particular health condition e.g. diabetes. You could volunteer for Diabetes UK, helping run local support groups for people with diabetes or offering advice and support about diabetes to patients.
  • You want to pursue a career in palliative care, but want to make sure it's the right environment for you first. You could volunteer at a local hospice to gain insight and experience.
  • You want to work for a telephone based advice service like NHS 111, but have limited telephone advice skills or lack call centre experience. You could volunteer to work on helplines for charities such as the SamaritansAnxiety UK, or Nurse Lifeline.
  • You are interested in child safeguarding, working with children, or working in a school setting. You could volunteer for the NSPCC as a "speak out stay safe" volunteer, where you'd be trained to deliver sessions to children in schools.
  • You want to work for the NHS but have been out of work for a long time and lack confidence. You could volunteer as a NHS responder.
  • You want to enhance your counselling skills or are interested in developing knowledge around suicide prevention. You could volunteer with charities like Papyrus delivering suicide awareness sessions, or on the phonelines for charities like the Samaritans or the NSPCC. 
  • You are interested in working in urgent care. You could volunteer for an organisation like St John's Ambulance
  • You're a manager and would like more director level experience. You could volunteer for the board of a charity or local group as a chairperson or trustee, or for a steering group.

Free course: Using voluntary work to get ahead in the job market

The Open University is offering a free 12 hour course, "Using voluntary work to get ahead in the job market." to help you explore how engaging in voluntary work can enhance your employment opportunities. By the end of this free course, you should be able to:

  • identify your objectives and assess what you have to offer;
  • balance these against a practical framework of your personal circumstances;
  • explore a range of reference sources to select what is most relevant;
  • prepare an action plan, including evaluation of achievements;
  • produce ongoing strategies to develop your voluntary work;
  • understand employers' requirements and match the skills you acquire;
  • articulate and present the evidence of these skills effectively in job seeking.

Useful resources regarding volunteering opportunities 

There are volunteering opportunities all over the UK in a range of different settings. You can explore some of the links below, but the list is by no means exhaustive. 

Alternatively you could organise your own volunteering activity such as setting up a local support group, setting up an online support group or offering to become an admin for an existing one, or organising a fundraiser, local event, or activity.

Important information

If you’re on the NMC register you should always consider your NMC code including any potential obligations regarding indemnity. See the RCN indemnity scheme or speak to the RCN if you're not sure.

If you're off sick from work and/or are under any restrictions, seek advice from your employer, GP, and/or Occupational Health team before agreeing to volunteer so that you are not in breach of contract or policy. Speak to the RCN if you're not sure about this and would like some advice.

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