“More than 1,100 volunteers come through the doors of Mass General annually,” says Jackie Nolan, director of MGH Volunteer Services. “They’ve been part of the fabric of this hospital since 1821. They become an extension of the staff.”

MGH Volunteer Services supports more than 50 programs, including within the special care nursery. Volunteers spend a combined 40 hours a day in the unit cuddling babies.

“Babies need sleep to grow and develop. They often fall asleep – and sleep better – when they’re held, and that’s where we come in,” Nolan says.

Volunteers also help with the patient discharge process by helping to sit with and talk with patients who are ready to leave the hospital and are waiting for a ride to return home or to a longer-term care facility. Nolan says with volunteers handling these aspects, clinicians can focus on the inpatient population. She says it also helps with system throughput, freeing up beds to ease strains on capacity.

“There are so many ways to help. Volunteers can be greeters in the main lobby and escort visitors where they need to go. They can help transport patients throughout the hospital, and provide comfort in waiting areas by giving updates to families who have a loved one undergoing procedures,” Nolan says.

MGH volunteers with some of the MGH Pet Therapy dogs
MGH volunteers with some of the MGH Pet Therapy dogs.

In addition, MGH Volunteer Services offers a popular Pet Therapy Program with six dogs who visit with patients, families and staff.

“People love the dogs,” Nolan says. “They make people happy.”

The majority of volunteers are medical students, but the group has participants of all age groups, from diverse backgrounds and experiences. While there were about 900 volunteers at MGH each week before the COVID-19 pandemic, they now average around 500.

“We want more people to join the program!” says Nolan.

For more information about becoming a volunteer, visit massgeneral.org/volunteer.