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Power of Youth—how young people have impacted our hospitals

05 June 2019

Today we are celebrating #powerofyouth as part of National Volunteers Week 2019. In this blog, Katie Thomson, our Youth Volunteering Manager, comments on the integration of youth volunteers at West Middlesex University Hospital, and the plans for the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Summer Programme 2019.

Today we are celebrating the #powerofyouth as part of National Volunteers Week 2019. In this blog, Katie Thomson, our Youth Volunteering Manager,  comments on the integration of youth volunteers at West Middlesex University Hospital, and the plans for the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Summer Programme 2019.

Young people aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow. They have the energy, skills and ideas to change society and the environment for the better today. We also invite you to support the #iwill campaign.

My last year leading youth volunteering at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust can be pretty much summed up as:

  • 1 youth volunteering manager 
  • 1 clinical imaging department 
  • 2 surgical wards
  • 5 care of older people wards 
  • 11 training events 
  • 15 schools 
  • 56 active young people
  • 1,202 hours of volunteering
  • Endless cups of tea... 

With the support of our hospital charity CW+, I launched a programme focusing on the creation of meaningful volunteering opportunities for young people aged 16-25 years old. What I hadn’t anticipated were the lessons they have taught me and the staff at our hospital.

Why should hospitals recruit young people to volunteer in patient facing roles? What can they contribute that an adult couldn’t? 

These are valid questions which have been nuanced in less direct questions both from internal and external staff. I always reply with ‘a little trust’ and some time and enthusiasm to welcome young people into your staff team. Overall it isn’t much to ask! In return you will see local young people who are enthusiastic, willing to learn and have new innovative ideas. They can make a difference right here and now to your patients, while also developing skills for 21st Century employment. 

I was fortunate enough to run a quality improvement pilot project to increase patient experience through a gynaecology ambulatory care pathway. During a hysteroscopy a woman can encounter many clinical and non-clinical professionals – recruiting a youth volunteer to be a part of her pathway provided one consistent person. 86% of patients reported that having a volunteer present was ‘very useful’ with one woman expressing direct thanks to the volunteer for ‘holding my hand.’ This volunteer not only fulfilled her role, she went above and beyond suggesting small changes which could be made to the pathway to ensure the patient had the best experience during what can be an uncomfortable procedure. 

Salma is an absolute credit to herself, but always fully contributes to and embodies what youth social action means—taking action on a topic you are passionate about, while concurrently developing your own skills and widening your experiences.  

Co-creating youth social action opportunities

‘[I] want to go against the stereotype that teenagers are scary and have nothing to contribute…. [I will] take this opportunity to bring a bit of carefree life into the hospital. [I] don’t have to worry about mortgages, a job, and the general stresses of life just yet and [I] think it is nice to remind adults about that.’ 

I was on the verge of crying with joy when a I recently interviewed a young woman who expressed why she wanted to join my summer programme. Again, her words showed her commitment to changing the here and now, challenging stereotypes and taking the opportunity to make a real difference.

I am incredibly lucky to work alongside and co-design volunteering opportunities within the Trust—creating space where young people often challenge my own views, thoughts and feelings. My next ambition is to create Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust ambassadors to extend the reach wider and younger encouraging individuals who ‘don’t think volunteering is for them’ to come and try. Give it a go. See the change. Be the change.

I firmly believe we all have something to contribute. But sometimes it takes some of us a little longer to realise what that is and how we can express it. Let’s continue to celebrate, take little risks, and be creative in our approach to ensure young people not only shape the future. They can, and should, shape the here and now.

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