Career advice

Yes, it’s a big ask for nurses, but voluntary work makes personal and career sense

Giving up your free time may be a selfless act, but it’s good for your CV too

Giving up your free time may be a selfless act, but it’s good for your CV too


Focus on what you care about most if you're looking for ways to volunteer. Picture: Alamy

Feel you’ve got a touch of the January blues? If so, it’s hardly surprising. The purses and waistlines of many nurses are likely to be feeling the strain after an over indulgent festive season. Yet, unlike many office workers, you probably haven't had an extended break.

There is no such thing as ‘winding down’ on a ward full to bursting, with any partying squeezed into precious days off, so it is understandable that energy reserves and motivation will be at a low ebb.  

It can be easy to feel stuck in a rut, personally or career-wise, but with a small amount of effort you can start moving out of it.

It's a good time to set some goals

One way to do this is to set yourself goals or challenges for the coming year. There is already plenty of advice out there about losing weight or exercising more, so don’t worry, this is not a lecture on healthy eating. Instead, let’s be brave and look at alternative ways to inject some vitality into your life.

'Not all rewards are financial. The benefits of volunteering include increased confidence, meeting new people and learning skills'

The most obvious route to progressing to a Band 6 or beyond is to boost your clinical skills through additional training and qualifications. But with current budgetary restraints, you may have to self-fund any continuing professional development (CPD) events you want to attend. On top of studying in between long shifts, this can easily dampen your enthusiasm.

But there are other – voluntary – ways to enhance your CV and careers prospects, and they often start with using the skills you already have. 

I can almost hear you shout: ‘I don’t have time!’ Giving up time off for free can seem like a big ask, but try to remember not all rewards are financial. The benefits of volunteering include increased confidence, meeting new people and learning skills. It can also help improve existing skills, such as leadership and communication, all of which will look good on your CV.

Capitalise on your interests

Being a volunteer shows that you have a social conscience, and it can help you stand out from the crowd in job applications. But it’s important to make sure any voluntary role works for you too. So, as well as thinking about what skills you can bring and what skills you want to gain, consider what you are interested in and how much time you can offer.

There are thousands of charities out there. If you give your time to something you feel passionate about you are in a win-win situation. Some charities may even have voluntary roles that you can do from home.

'Skills learned on a board can be brought into nursing practice, such as governance, ethics and leadership'

All charities will have some level of board or trustee governance, as do not-for-profit organisations like the NHS and some universities. You may not think so initially but you will have plenty of skills that could be useful in a board situation, the main thing is for you to believe you do and to highlight these skills in your application. 

As a nurse, you have many untapped skills

As associate professor Miles Weaver, who runs Edinburgh Napier University’s leadership in board governance course, says: ‘Nurses are an untapped talent with an abundance of skills – they are passionate, caring and inherently want to make a difference. It is those skills and their voice that would be invaluable in the board room.’

Conversely, skills learned from sitting on a board can be brought into nursing practice, such as governance, ethics and leadership.

And don’t let your perceptions of board members put you off. There is an active move to make boards more inclusive, as Dr Weaver says: ‘Diversity is key to decision-making. Nurses would be ideal additions to many boards as they come from diverse backgrounds, gender and ethnicity.’


Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach and former nurse 

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