Thursday, 18 June 2009

Volunteering an uncomfortable truth

I am really enjoying my voluntary work at the hospital. I find it very rewarding. It is so nice to work with such compassionate dedicated people. It is great to give something back to the NHS which has helped me & my family so much over the years. It is so lovely to feel valued, to be part of a team & to do something so worthwhile. It has helped stretch my boundaries & rebuild my confidence. I am willing to take on almost any duty they offer me & never know what I may be asked to do next. The volunteer coordinator who is responsible for over 800 volunteers has a wonderful way with her & installs great confidence. I trust her judgement & have never felt the need to say no to anything she has asked of me. She is gradually expanding my duties & although the work is voluntary it has many of the responsibilities of a real paid position.
Apart from working in the children’s department I have also done some data inputting tasks. The most demanding task so far was for me to assist with a training day for hospital HR managers during which I had to attend three job interviews for a fictitious ward clerk’s position. I have only ever had one mock interview for a job in over thirty years having had my previous career for 29 years. With my anxiety issues, lack of interview experience, extreme shyness & the wonderful positive Alexia of finally being my true self for the first time in my life, this would really stretch my comfort zone.
Excluding the 90% of my life where society expected me to play a role that matched my body, I have never done any role playing willingly before & never wanted to but I knew this would be great experience for me.
Three of us volunteers, myself, another lady & a man were given ten minutes to learn a brief life history & a career profile we were asked to assume for the interviews. We could base them loosely on ourselves as none of us had acting experience. The male applicant was to appear to be ex military, with a minor disability & a tendency towards enjoying alcohol. I was asked to choose randomly from two sealed envelopes which contained female characters roles I was to play. One of the characters had little previous experience for the job; the other was well qualified but held a secret they did not wish to disclose during the interview. It came as no surprise for me to select the one with the secret. The surname of the character coincidentally was identical to one of my inspirational friends here on the Internet who is on the same path, which encouraged me to imagine how she might conduct herself in such a situation. . The secret I am pleased to say is something I am sure my inspirational friend does not have & neither do I. The character I had to play had a prison record.
The interviews were conducted by three separate panels of four or five HR managers who were all on the training course. It was their task to select the appropriate candidate & identify any strengths or weaknesses in the three applicants.
I was so nervous for the first interview it felt very very real to me. Part of their training clearly involved trying to establish the integrity & quality of the applicant. When they asked me if there was anything I wished to disclose to them which might affect my chances of being successful in applying for the job I nearly froze. This was rather too close to my own very real fear of the preconceived prejudice I am possibly likely to face from some potential employers.
Incredibly by the second interview I felt a confidence grow inside me I had never experienced before. I could handle this situation. What ever the outcome good or bad, it was a win win situation. I could learn so much from this situation & more importantly so could the HR managers.
Some of the panels were more warm/friendly in their approach, all were very polite & respectful. Interestingly; it became apparent they were generally actually all just as nervous as me. We all had our own fears; we are all only human after all!
Once all the interviews had been completed all three candidates were summoned by the trainer to another interview room to sit in front of the class of over a dozen managers to be cross examined on how we all thought the interview went. It finally came down to decision time when the panels were asked to identify the successful candidates. The first panel chose the other lady. The second chose me. I was momentarily strangely disappointed to find the final panel chose the other lady. It was an incredibly beneficial shared experience & the tutor was able to provide excellent key points for both the interviewers & us the candidates.
This experience broke down a number of major barriers for me & was a great lift to my confidence. So much so that this week I was asked if I was willing to do the same thing again for training day & I said “Yes.”
In truth I am quite scared how tough it will be when I am eventually well enough to attempt to try to get paid employment. My disability remains my anxiety but I am determined to live my life to the full & one day it may be diminished enough for many more of my dreams to come true. All the baggage I carry, all the paranoia & possible prejudice I may face. I so admire the men & women who successfully transition in the workplace & the pressures they constantly face with many of their colleagues knowing their past. Finding or retaining employment is so hard for everyone especially so in a world wide recession. We can all become victims of discrimination during our lives. People may face prejudice in the workplace for reasons of age, for gender, race or religion, disabilities or just for being different. I am willing all those that may feel victimised by ignorance, with all my heart, to succeed in their lives & their careers.
Having had this great experience from volunteer work I was faced with an uncomfortable truth this week. The volunteer coordinator gave me a dilemma which for the first time I found myself unsure as to the outcome.
The volunteer co-ordinator asked me if I would mentor/buddy another volunteer. This volunteer was described to me as being on her last chance. The volunteer duties although not necessarily demanding are taken quite seriously. The volunteer co-ordinator did not want to have to let her go but she informed me this person apparently seemed not to be able to conform to what was required of her. This person apparently struggled to maintain concentration & is prone to disregarding the rules some times. I was asked to come along to meet her. When we were introduced the volunteer co-ordinator spoke to her very politely but quite firmly. She was warned not to take too many cups of tea in a slightly jovial but serious manner.
Although I have supervised people in the past I am none confrontational & like to get along with people. I was not sure if I could do this. If I agreed she would join me in the department where I am usually the only volunteer in that part of the hospital. I love the job & the team of wonderful nurses, I humbly assist. Working with this lady might prove too demanding for me & selfishly spoil something I hold so dear. I do not like thinking this way & this is really troubling my conscience. I did not want to let anyone down, the co-ordinator, the nurses, the patients or this lady. I felt very responsible & guilty that if I said “no” her opportunity to volunteer may be taken from her.
This lady appears to have learning difficulties & OCD. She has a medical condition I will not display here for reasons of confidentiality & out of respect to her privacy. The uncomfortable truth is that she faces prejudice just because of the way she was born. She perhaps in some peoples eyes does not quite conform to the norm, what ever that is! All she wants is a chance to be accepted, to feel a sense of self worth, just like me. Who are we to judge her? What should I do?


Anji said...

I think that this is an ideal opportunity to repay what you have gained in recent months. You, more than anyone else know how it feels to be 'on the outside' - do you see what I mean.

The interview role plays are really great. I did that when I was on a course for long term unemployed and it really helps to have a realistic practise. It helps to know also that the person conducting the interview isn't (normally) a professional interviewer and is just as nervous.

If I ever end up in hospital in the UK I hope it's your hospital. If they look after the staff so well the patients must benefit.

Debbie K said...

Hi Anji
I was awake in the early hours deliberating on my decission regarding this lady. She desrves to be given a chance & treated with the respect she deserves. I am very anxious that I treat her with the appropriate respct but question if I have the experience to do that. I can see through her eyes to some extent how it feels to be on the outside but my vision may be slightly clouded by my own inseccurities. I just want to do what is right for this dear lady.

It is a great hospital to work at & I feel privalidged to feel part of it. The staff are all Angels & really care about their patients.

NickyB (aka the CFG) said...

But could quite easily, respectfully and professionally deny her request, to mentor/buddy this lady. Your grounds would simply be that you volunteer *yourself*, and are still putting 100% into what you personally give to the job, and your own work/life balance. Your own personal level of "giving" needs to be monitored I think, such that you don't give too much ? And please don't think I mean that in a selfish way.
I too have done these interview role-plays on many mgmt training courses...great fun...I mean, wow ! it's really really good that you got such good experience from them !
Take it easy debbie, and look after yourself ? xxx

Debbie K said...

Thanks Nicky
Sometimes my well of giving runs dry but I will never stop caring.
This lady really deserves her chance but am I the right person to provide it?

I am not sure I find role playing great fun yet. I still cannot believe shy little me actually did this. In my other life I would have avoided something like this at all cost.
Times have changed, so have I

Karen said...

It's hard to say what you should do. Perhaps it might be good for the both of you. On tho other hand, watch you don't over do it and take on to much.
You make a decision on whats best for you and those closest to you.
Look after yourself xx

Josephine said...

Well how interesting to do those dummy interviews...a real insight into the process, and humanising the interviewers too. Experience to remember, and use when you start doing them 'for real' Debbie, as you will...

On the other issue...yes you could (as Nicky has said), respectfully decline. But I suspect you want to try and help and do your best for this other person...

Two thoughts. First, she isn't your responsibility. What I mean by that is that do help, do empathise, do do it...but inside don't get into a place where you feel your job is to save her from disaster. If she makes it, or doesn't...ultimately it's not in your control, and is about her.

The other thought is that this reads to me like you have been picked out as trusted and respected - to be given this task. They've put her with you, because they think it will do her good. That's a pat on the back - well done...make sure you take that affirmation and keep it inside eh?


Jess said...

Catching up, late, sorry.

Glad to her your volunteering is going well.

Clearly those you're working for are impressed by you given how they are tapping into your skills.

My own take: treat it as a honour that you've been asked to mentor the other lass. Hope that works out - what you give, you receive back.


Debbie K said...

Thank you so much Karen, Jo & Jess for your kind words.
My heart always new what my head would have to do. There was always only going to be one decission & that is to give this dear lady a chance. All being well when she comes back from holiday next week we will be working together, kindred sisters strating out on a new path.