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The days of the candy striper, those red-and-white-clad teenagers who became an iconic, pop-culture symbol, may be all but over but the need for what they did – serve as volunteers who helped ration the valuable time and attention of doctors and other staff – remains.
Luckily, at least at local hospitals, the pool of those willing to fill the uniform – figuratively speaking – also stands strong.
“[Volunteers] serve a very important role [at hospitals]. Whatever is needed, they’re usually able to do,” said Lynn Foster, coordinator of volunteers at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket.
Foster has run Memorial’s program for 11 years and said the hospital has relied on students and other young adults to supplement its volunteer pool – also, as in most other hospitals, comprised of retired adults and the part-time or underemployed – since the candy striper days.
They do it for a variety of reasons, including school requirements, educational advancement and, just as commonly, a good, old-fashioned sense of civic duty.
“They’re very motivated,” Foster said. “It’s surprising how they work this into their busy schedule.”
High-school students are seen at the hospital mostly during summer. There are typically about 30 such students per season.
At Landmark Medical Center, in Woonsocket, where Carolyn Dery has been volunteer-services coordinator for the last five years, there are about 80 high school volunteers. When her 25 or so college students are added in, young adults make up about half of her total volunteer base.
“Honestly, I see most of the kids who come to me wanting to do it because they have a medical interest,” Dery said. “They aren’t quite sure what they want to do post-high school and they come to see what is available and where they might fit in.”
Of course, high school volunteers – most of whom are under 18 – are limited in services they can provide.