Hospital volunteers work without regular pay in a variety of health care settings, usually under the supervision of a nurse. Most hospitals train and supervise volunteers through a specialized non-profit organization called an auxiliary. The director of the auxiliary is usually a paid employee of the hospital.
Duties of hospital volunteers vary widely depending upon the facility. Volunteers may staff reception areas and gift shops; file and retrieve documents; provide administrative backup; help visitors; or transport various small items like flowers, medical records, lab specimens, and drugs from unit to unit.
A few hospitals ask their volunteers to help out with janitorial duties, like cleaning beds. This task can be particularly unpleasant, since most inpatients with illness severe enough to justify hospital admission have difficulty regulating their orifices.
Some hospitals keep all their volunteers in one place (a dispersal unit) and assign them to tasks based on real-time labor demand, while other hospitals assign volunteers to a single unit for the duration of their service.
Volunteers' services are of considerable importance to individual patients as well as the health care system in general. Some people volunteer during high school, either out of curiosity about the health care professions or in order to satisfy mandatory community service requirements imposed by some schools. Others volunteer at later stages in their life, particularly after retirement.
A hospital volunteer is sometimes nicknamed a candystriper. This name is derived from the fact that female volunteers traditionally wear red and white striped jumpers. Male volunteers traditionally wear light blue tunics or shirts over dark slacks.