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How volunteering can help your nurse career (and where to start)

6 health benefits of volunteering, according to Mayo Clinic Volunteering can help change the lives of others for the better every single day, but it also provides numerous benefits to volunteers themselves. It lowers the risk of depression. Gives individuals a sense of purpose. Helps keep you both physically and mentally active. Volunteering can reduce stress levels. And lengthen your life. It also encourages you to develop new relationships with like-minded people, strengthening your support system and i

Fulfilling volunteer opportunities abound in Georgia medical settings. The Northside Hospital Auxiliary alone offers a chance for volunteers to contribute through wildly diverse programs, from giving puppet shows for area schools to assisting with Camp Hope for adults diagnosed with cancer and ringing up specialty gift sales in the volunteer-staffed hospital shops.

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But volunteering isn't just for the general public! Nurses volunteer too, and some of the possibilities can boost your career outlook along with your endorphins and brain function. It's not just a vague idea about warm fuzzies, either. Numerous recent studies have shown that doing good can make you feel better, physically and mentally. A 2017 study published in BMC Health, for example, showed that helping others brought pleasure to volunteers, along with increased life satisfaction and better-perceived health. A 2016 study published in the Psychosomatic Medicine Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine showed volunteering as a possible source of the sense of purpose that made people less likely to die from any cause.

Johns Hopkins study underlined the physical benefits of volunteering, too. Researchers there used functional magnetic resonance imaging to show that seniors who volunteered as youth mentors "made gains in key brain regions that support cognitive abilities important to planning and organizing one's daily life" and that volunteering "can have the added benefits of improving the cognitive abilities of older adults, enhancing their quality of life."

» RELATED: Volunteer group sings to Alzheimer's patients

Nurse volunteers can boost their careers

Of course, most nurses volunteer with the same mindset of giving back or paying it forward that brings a person to nursing in the first place. The health impact tends to be just an auxiliary benefit. But nurses who are on the fence about volunteering have another key benefit to consider: It can help you get your first job or expand your opportunities later in your career, according to EveryNurse. It recommended volunteering as a possible path to the first job in places where the demand for nurses wasn't so high, and as a possible workaround for "the vicious cycle of starting out in any career ‒ to get experience, you must work first, but to get a job, you need experience."

Volunteering while you're still a student or as you prepare to seek new job opportunities is win-win, according to EveryNurse. "It looks good on your college applications and on scholarship applications. Plus, it offers the added bonus of differentiating your resume from the competition," it explained. "Moreover, volunteering is simply a great way to give back to the community and help out those who need it most. Even nurses with established careers or who have retired often choose to volunteer."

Certain volunteer opportunities will have the highest impact if you're still in nursing school, looking for your first job or need a career boost. Local clinics and emergency shelters are good places to start.

The American Red Cross also has programs aimed at student nurses. "To participate, students are encouraged to read through the volunteering guide and then contact their local chapter to set up a meeting with a volunteer coordinator," EN added. "This individual should be able to help connect you to volunteer opportunities. Student nurses also may train to serve as volunteers on nursing disaster response teams."

Nonprofits that focus on health are another good place to start. Groups like the March of Dimes are always looking for volunteers and usually have very active local chapters. The nice thing about big groups is that you can distinguish your resume and make nurse contacts without necessarily having to do more medical-theme work as a volunteer. Plenty of groups need help with things like phone banks or event organizing if you don't want to heap more nurse-focused activities on your already stressed schedule.

If you're still coming up short on places where you can volunteer that are suitable for people with a nursing background, reach out to your local nursing association and ask them to guide you to volunteer positions in the area, EN recommended.

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