Volunteering in Public Health
By Sam MacArthur

Public health volunteering has many benefits, both for the communities being served and for the volunteers themselves. For the communities receiving service, the benefits should match their particular needs.

For example, thanks to public health volunteering, communities in need may receive help following a disaster, famine, or other health-related crisis. They may also benefit from getting an education on health-related topics such as mental health, disaster preparedness, maternal health, HIV/AIDs, vaccinations, and much more. 

What are the Benefits of Public Health Volunteering? 

Some communities that already have operating health programs may need some extra assistance when their hands are full. A public health volunteer or group of volunteers can provide the assistance that they need. Meanwhile, those who don’t have existing medical programs may work with volunteers to start putting those programs in place, making their communities more self-sustainable overall. 

All of these benefits are especially helpful for organizations and communities when public health assistance isn’t in the budget. While the world needs public health professionals, those who need the most public health assistance may not be able to afford to hire new team members. Public health volunteering can help these communities close the gap. They can provide the crucial help that these communities need without adding to their financial burden. 

While the communities being served are the most important people in any volunteer situation, volunteering in public health can also benefit the public health volunteer. For example, those who take advantage of volunteer opportunities in public health can add their experiences to resumes. For those who are just beginning their careers, volunteering can provide excellent experiences to add to an otherwise sparse resume. 

Volunteering shows initiative, the willingness to work hard, and the ability to work as a team player. All of these traits are things that employers want from their employees, which is why volunteer work can catch the eye of a potential employer. 

Of course, the benefits of volunteering go well beyond the ability to say that you’ve volunteered. The experiences themselves can also build public health skills that may benefit volunteers throughout their entire careers. Once you return to your job, you may apply the skills that you learned while volunteering to your regular work. Those skills may even help you with career advancement opportunities. Plus, public health volunteering puts people in contact with other public health workers, which can result in some great networking opportunities. 

Furthermore, volunteering in public health can help people connect with others on a deeper level, make new friends, and gain experiences that can make them more well rounded people. In the case of those who volunteer abroad, public health service can open volunteers to new cultures and perspectives. 

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Where Can I Find Public Health Volunteer Opportunities Near Me? 

When you want to help people using your public health skills, finding opportunities can sometimes be as simple as doing a “public health volunteer opportunities near me” search. This search will help you see local volunteering options in a convenient way. 

Another thing you can do is search for volunteer opportunities through major public health organizations. Some major health organizations have local chapters or offer volunteer opportunities in local areas, so you can take a look at their websites to find out more. These organizations include: 

Any one of these organizations can give you a great starting point for finding public health volunteer opportunities. 

If you’re currently a student, find out if your school’s public health program supports volunteer opportunities. Students in some public health programs may be encouraged or even required to commit to service hours as part of their degree programs, and these schools often partner with organizations that need volunteers. Your school can be a great starting point for volunteer work. Plus, volunteering as a student can be an especially helpful way for you to gain work-related experience before you even begin your job search. 

Likewise, if you’re part of a professional organization for public health workers, you may find volunteer partnership opportunities through that organization. 

How Do I Get Started if I Want to Volunteer for Public Health?

If you want to get more specific with your search, though, you can look into the following places: 

  • Hospitals 
  • Hospice Centers 
  • Nursing and Retirement Homes 
  • Mentorship Programs 
  • Health-Related Events 

All of these places can provide excellent volunteer opportunities in public health. You can contact them directly via phone or email to ask if they need volunteers. Otherwise, look at their websites for listed volunteer opportunities. 

Can I Serve as a Public Health Volunteer Abroad? 

You’ve done your “public health volunteer opportunities near me” search, but what if you’d rather volunteer abroad? Public health volunteer opportunities exist everywhere, so you can absolutely be a public health volunteer abroad if that’s what you want to do. 

Global public health is a major sector of the public health system. The simplest way to get started is to look for organizations that will send a public health volunteer abroad. You might look into the Peace Corps or the Red Cross, for example. 

Do I Have to Commit to Volunteering Full Time? 

Not every volunteer has a lot of extra time for volunteering, and that’s perfectly fine. You can find volunteer opportunities that work within your schedule. Some volunteer opportunities do require a major time commitment for several consecutive months. If you volunteer with the aforementioned Peace Corps, for example, you’ll begin your volunteer work with pre-service training that takes place in the country where you volunteer. That training includes language immersion and work-related training. After training, volunteers spend several months working in agriculture, education, health, community development, or other commitments

You may not be able to make such a big volunteering commitment, but that shouldn’t stop you from volunteering if you want to make a difference. Some people volunteer for an hour or so after work on weekdays. Some commit their weekends to volunteering. Others volunteer sporadically. You may even be able to apply your public health skills to virtual volunteering opportunities that let you volunteer from your own home or anywhere else you happen to have an internet connection. 

What are Some Typical Public Health Volunteering Duties? 

As a volunteer for public health, you may take on any number of duties. For example, you may work with volunteer doctors and nurses by assisting them on medical relief trips abroad. 

Whether you volunteer for public health in another country or stay a little closer to home, you might serve by providing education about health topics. If you went to school for public health and/or have public health work experience, you’re in a unique position to provide insight on public health topics. 

You might also help with educational public health events by organizing and printing materials or running an informational booth. These evens often need volunteers to help set up booths before the event and tear them down afterward. 

You can help in virtually any public health organization by performing administrative duties such as answering the phone, organizing paperwork, helping other volunteers sign in, and more. 

Do Public Health Volunteers Provide Medical Care? 

Public health volunteers generally do not and should not provide direct medical care such as blood transfusions, vaccines, and other treatments. Volunteers who try to provide this care without proper training can often do more harm than good. The one exception, of course, is when former doctors and nurses who still have a license to practice go into the public health field. These medical professionals can take on public health volunteer duties that include providing direct medical care. 

Other public health volunteers, however, can still be valuable assets in medical volunteer opportunities. They may not be able to provide medical care themselves, but they can assist doctors and nurses and help patients in other ways. They may spend time getting to know patients, provide educational materials, mentor members of the community, and much more. 

What Qualifications Do I Need to be a Public Health Volunteer? 

Unlike volunteering as a doctor or a nurse, volunteering in public health doesn’t typically take much training. There’s a volunteer opportunity for virtually every still level in the public health sector. 

The most reputable volunteer opportunities in public health match the volunteer’s ability to the job. While volunteering in public health doesn’t always come with a lot of qualifications, keep in mind that the more experience you have in the public health field, the more volunteer jobs you’ll be qualified to do. As a result, you may find more volunteer opportunities in public health if you have a public health degree and/or relevant public health experience. 

When it comes to public health volunteer opportunities, don’t try to take on jobs that you’re not trained or qualified to take on. Remember that volunteering isn’t about the volunteer. It’s about the person or people who receive the volunteer’s help. Often, these people need experts, not passionate amateurs. 

Again, however, there’s a volunteer job for virtually every skill level. With the right research and connections, you can find public health volunteering opportunities that will match your skills to someone else’s needs. 

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