Nova Scotia Health’s volunteer programs create opportunities to align with youth interest and recruitment

Anna Taylor and Julia Blackwood are fourth year dietetic students at Acadia University and volunteers at Nova Scotia Health.
Anna Taylor and Julia Blackwood are fourth year dietetic students at Acadia University and volunteers at Nova Scotia Health.

Every Thursday, Acadia University dietetic students Anna Taylor and Julia Blackwood hop into Blackwood’s car and head to the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville to volunteer as part of the meal assistance program.

Like many other things, Nova Scotia Health’s volunteer program paused during the COVID-19 global pandemic and shut down for about a year-and-a-half due to health and safety protocols.

In summer of 2022, volunteer services received word that the volunteering program could begin again.

Prior to the shutdown, Nova Scotia Health had a volunteer-base of around 6,000 across the province; however, Nova Scotia Health has lost a large percentage of its volunteers due to the pandemic.

Traditionally, a significant number of volunteers at the facilities were retired seniors—many who have more than 20 years of volunteer experience and many who are not comfortable returning to the hospital environment at this time.

Ruth Dugie, volunteer resource consultant in Western Nova Scotia recognized the need to reframe the volunteer program. She is also part of a youth engagement working group and saw the value of attracting youth volunteers within Nova Scotia Health.

“I saw this as an opportunity to create a community of youth within Nova Scotia Health,” said Dugie. “By doing this, we can really instill that community service within our youth across the province and also leverage volunteerism as a recruitment tool for our organization.”

Dugie reached out to different community partners including Acadia University in Wolfville. The university has many programs including a dietetic program—a natural fit for Nova Scotia Health’s meal assistance volunteer role, which was already an established program at sites in Halifax and Sydney.

Acadia was very receptive to this opportunity and Dugie received about 30 applications for the meal assistance volunteer role alone. Taylor and Blackwood are two of these volunteers.

“We go in and help deliver trays and some patients require extra help for feeds,” explained Blackwood. “We do anything from opening packages to spoon-feeding patients. Some patients even just need a little extra encouragement to eat.”

Taylor added, “You get to know the patients and can see progression after a week which is so encouraging especially for patients waiting for long-term care in-hospital. It’s a really great experience and warms my heart.”

It’s not only the students that are benefiting from volunteering, but these roles are taking pressure off the clinical staff. Having volunteers to help with feedings and offer social interactions allows staff to focus on the clinical side of their work.

“We love our volunteers,” said Stephanie Toulouse, manager for Medical B and Rural Stroke Unit “Knowing that the volunteers are there to provide the one-on-one social support provides relief and allows the team to focus on the clinical care.”

Aligning career goals and volunteer experience is a sweet spot for Nova Scotia Health, creating a win-win opportunity for staff, patients and volunteers.

“I originally thought that I’d like to focus on sports nutrition,” said Blackwood. “But since volunteering at the hospital, I would love to work in a clinical setting—administering swallowing assessments, assessing feeds and nutritional diets.”

The meal assistance program is just one of the volunteer programs that align students with an area of interest. Dugie explained there are other programs that follow suit.

For example, the walkabout friendly visitor program is great for students with an interest in nursing, medical school, kinesiology and psychology. This program gets patients moving and help them combat the loneliness they may feel in hospital.

There is a Stryker volunteer program that kinesiology students can volunteer with. Students work directly with surgical rehabilitation. They help set up the room and equipment, stock ice packs and get to shadow the clinical workers.

Dugie even thought about potential barriers for student volunteers—a major one being access to transportation.

“We know that transportation can be a barrier to volunteering, so we started a Valley Regional carpool for our student volunteers,” said Dugie. “I’ll match students with transportation to those students without and we do a buddy system.”

Dugie and team really turned the challenge of lost volunteers into an opportunity to engage youth.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering at a Nova Scotia Health facility in your area, visit