The role of volunteers at an outpatient cancer center: how do volunteers enhance the patient experience?

Support Care Cancer. 2015 Jun;23(6):1597-605. doi: 10.1007/s00520-014-2505-8. Epub 2014 Nov 22.


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to describe the role volunteers play in the cancer patient experience at the BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver Island Centre, and opportunities to enhance the services they provide.

Methods: Using an action research approach, methodological triangulation of data from the viewpoints of patients, volunteers, and staff was used to first understand the unmet needs of patients and then how volunteers are able to address some of those needs.

Results: Patients, volunteers, and staff all agreed that volunteers enhance the patient experience, specifically by working with professionals to meet patients' emotional, practical, and informational needs. Physical needs were indirectly met by guiding patients to the appropriate personnel. Additionally, this study elucidated important organizational information such as gaps in care, how to screen for volunteers, and perceptions among interdisciplinary staff about the role of volunteers in cancer care.

Conclusions: Volunteers provide an essential complement to the professional healthcare team by tending to the non-medical needs of patients, thereby enhancing the patient experience. By better understanding the role and resulting benefits of involving volunteers in cancer care, healthcare professionals and volunteers can work synergistically to improve the quality of care for patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Health Personnel
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Outpatients
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration*
  • Volunteers / psychology*