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To transform healthcare we need to hear from all age groups

All Voices Wanted! Don’t Wait Until You’re Retired to Volunteer

Last week I sat on a call to review materials for pediatric patients. When I first learned of this volunteer opportunity, as a parent of young children, I thought I could offer some insights. Particularly since the documents we were being asked to review are information materials on common reasons for childhood hospitals visits (many of which my children have had).

As the volunteers were asked to introduce themselves, and tell why they had volunteered, I quickly learned I was the only parent of young children on the call. All of the other volunteers were retired and admitted it had been 30 years (or more) since they had taken a child to the hospital.

I have to admit I was a bit gobsmacked. While I appreciate the willingness of these individuals to volunteer, I wondered how much they remembered about the complex nature of having a sick child in the hospital.

It’s not just about dealing with the child and his/her illness or injury. Parent and child are often sleep deprived, emotional, scared, and unable to fully process all the information coming their way. What might seem simple and straightforward in everyday situations, can be confusing and overwhelming when dealing with a sick child.

This got me thinking about the demographics of volunteers in healthcare. I soon learned the majority of volunteers sitting on medical committees or reviewing patient information, are retirees. And this is not unique to my community.

So where are the younger voices? Where are the millennials, parents with school aged children and recent empty nesters?

I know you’re likely thinking — working, busy raising the children, stretched too thin and any volunteer hours they have are spent in activities related directly to their kids (school, sports, church). Or they are waiting until they retire, when they will have more time to volunteer.

As a working mom, running my own business and raising two kids, I get it. Most nights I barely have the energy to sit through a Netflix show.

But guess what? We need a variety of voices and demographics if we want to create a healthcare system that meets the needs of ALL patients, not just our senior population.

As a parent, I bring a unique perspective in my role as a patient advocate and volunteer. I view the healthcare system with a different lense and add a voice, often unheard, to the discussions.

Yes, it can be challenging to find time to volunteer. But, as a parent who spends a lot of time accessing healthcare with my children, I know the importance of bringing my voice, and perspective, to the table.

I am passionate about being part of positive change. Even if it’s just helping simplifying information on handout for pediatric patients. I know the three hours of my time, will help a parent at 2 a.m. know how to care for their child when discharged from the hospital.

If you are reading this and you’re not yet retired, think about how you can volunteer and add your voice to the healthcare discussion. Whether it’s two hours a week or two hours a month, your insights and perspectives are needed.

Don’t wait until you retire to volunteer. Lend your voice now, so we can create a healthcare system that works for everyone.

If you want to read more about patient advocacy visit www.learnpatientadvocacy.com.

Writer, communications professional, speaker and patient advocate. Visit www.howtocommunications.com for free communications tools to help share your stories.

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