Career advice

From Wimbledon to welly burn – variety and fun as a nurse volunteer at St John Ambulance

Nurses who volunteer with St John Ambulance provide care in a range of unique settings from sports events to flower shows.

Nurses who volunteer with St John Ambulance provide care in a range of unique settings from sports events to flower shows

Nurses who volunteer with St John Ambulance have a chance for professional
development or can choose to simply be first aiders. Picture: Alamy

Volunteering for St John Ambulance gives nurses a chance to care for patients in a range of unique settings, including major sporting fixtures, music festivals and even local flower shows.

‘They have the opportunity to experience life outside their workplace, using their skills in a very different scenario,’ says Ginny Storey, the charity’s chief nurse adviser, which is also a volunteer role.

St John Ambulance has more than 500 nurse volunteers in England alone, from a variety of different specialties. ‘It’s not necessary to have a background in emergency care,’ says Ms Storey.

Professional development

In practice, trained volunteers are expected to cope with anything from cuts, scrapes and stings to drug and alcohol issues, respiratory problems and coronaries. ‘We seem to have seen a lot of what we call “welly burn” this year at family festivals,’ says Ms Storey. ‘It’s caused when youngsters wear wellies but no socks, so the back of their leg is rubbed and becomes sore. At a festival, it’s hard to get to a pharmacy.’

New volunteers begin with a six-hour first aid course as part of their induction. Next is a four-day course that enables volunteers to provide services at events such as Wimbledon and charity marathons. The advanced course, which is also four days, covers many topics already familiar to nurses, such as infection control and taking blood pressure.

Ms Storey says the charity is working to improve its professional development opportunities. ‘We want to give our volunteers something back, showing how much we value them and their commitment,’ she says.

Leadership potential

‘We’re looking at what they might be able to get from us that they may be struggling to gain from an employer, for example. We’ll offer higher level trauma and emergency medicine programmes for healthcare professionals who are interested.’

Alongside professional clinical roles, including providing clinical leadership, nurses can simply choose to become a first aider. Other opportunities include training others, working with young people or becoming a volunteer manager.

‘If we recognise that someone is showing leadership potential we’ll welcome them into that volunteer role, regardless of what they do in their day job,’ says Ms Storey. ‘So they may get experience that helps them in their career.’

Social aspect

For many volunteers, the social side is a big plus. ‘Often they will meet up with colleagues who they know from other events,’ says Ms Storey. ‘It’s a real bonus.’

Volunteers have an annual development review, which includes looking at any beneficial professional development, and a clinical competency assessment for healthcare professionals.

There is also recognition that nurse volunteers are often juggling demanding professional and personal lives. ‘Sometimes they may need to become less active with us for a while,’ says Ms Storey. ‘We’re very flexible, because we understand they are doing it from the goodness of their heart and they give a fantastic service.’

Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist  

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