FAQs for VITAS Volunteers
Volunteering at VITAS is an immensely rewarding experience. Find answers to your questions about being a hospice volunteer. Then talk to us about joining our team.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is eligible to volunteer at VITAS?
Adults, young adults and mature teens can be VITAS volunteers.
If you are under age 18, you usually begin volunteering by visiting elderly patients in nursing homes, either on your own or as parent-child or family volunteer team. Mature, responsible high school students who understand hospice can fulfill school volunteer requirements at VITAS. Adult volunteers 18 and older become part of a VITAS interdisciplinary team and fill a variety of administrative and patient-facing roles, especially one-on-one visits with patients, their loved ones and family caregivers in homes, facilities and inpatient units.
How does VITAS choose its volunteers?
Once you apply, you are interviewed to make sure you are a good fit for hospice.
The VITAS volunteer manager helps you explore your interests and identify special skills. Once accepted, you undergo VITAS volunteer training before being placed with a patient and team. Volunteers typically meet with their assigned patient at least once a week.
What kind of person is best suited to be a hospice volunteer? How do you determine who has what it takes?
Because hospice patients have unique end-of-life needs, VITAS seeks volunteers from all backgrounds, experiences and cultures.
We’re particularly interested in volunteers who understand the hospice philosophy and who embrace the importance of quality of life at the end of life. Often, a family member who is grieving finds the calling to “give back” by becoming a VITAS volunteer.
You must understand your strengths and limits as a hospice volunteer, because hospice work takes its toll. You become friends with patients who know they are going to die, and with the people who love them. You must be a calming presence as events unfold around you. You must commit the time to training, and understand that hospice patients’ needs can be physical, emotional and spiritual.
Additional qualities of a hospice volunteer:
- Respectful of all beliefs and customs
- Excellent communicator
- Good listener
- Comfortable with silence
What is involved in VITAS volunteer training?
Every VITAS volunteer receives free and comprehensive training before being assigned a volunteer job.
You learn about the hospice philosophy, caring for the terminally ill, grief and loss issues, health and safety precautions and other topics. You work with a hospice team: doctor, nurse, aide, chaplain and social worker. Because you spend personal time with the patient, you can often provide valuable feedback to the team about issues that arise during your visits.
What skills, talents or interests is VITAS looking for?
Our volunteer positions run the gamut, depending on your passions and comfort levels with various activities and experiences.
Here are some opportunities:
- Administrative and community outreach volunteers provide office support and help with our speaker’s bureau.
- Personal care volunteers visit patients regularly, help with daily chores or outings, provide personal care or pampering, read to the patient or just chat.
- Complementary care volunteers are professionals who provide reiki, aromatherapy or massage therapy.
- Artistic volunteers are professionals who provide music therapy, art therapy, art enrichment or photography sessions. Life-review volunteers document or record a patient’s life stories and memories. Volunteers who sew make Memory Bears from a patient’s clothing as a special memento for the family.
- Paw Pals® volunteers (and their pets) specialize in pet therapy and pet visits in patients’ homes and facilities.
- Bereavement and spiritual care volunteers help with personal visits, follow-up phone calls and support groups following the death of a VITAS patient. They address end-of-life issues, “anticipatory grief” and loss with patients, families and caregivers.
- VITAS volunteers also serve unique populations, including military veterans, patients who identify as LGBTQ, members of the Jewish community, patients who are African American, Haitian, Latino, Asian or speak a foreign language. These volunteers understand patients with varied cultural or religious beliefs. Foreign language proficiency is a plus.
Why do hospices have volunteers?
When hospice care became a Medicare benefit in 1982, written into the law signed by President Ronald Reagan was the requirement that community volunteers had to provide a minimum of 5 percent of total patient care hours. It is one of the things that makes hospice care unique in healthcare.
The thinking was that volunteers would provide a kind of caring and a point of view that neither the professional healthcare providers on the team nor the family, who is also part of the hospice team, would offer. Today every Medicare-certified hospice—public or private, secular or faith-based, for-profit or non-profit—trains community volunteers to provide 5 percent of patient care hours. It’s the law.