A candy striper was traditionally a young, female hospital volunteer -- a concept that originated in the 1940s. The unique job title referred to the candy cane look of the red and white-striped pinafores worn by the volunteers. Traditionally, the girls sewed their own pinafores. East Orange General Hospital in New Jersey started the first candy striper program in 1944.
During the 1950s and 60s, the popularity of candy stripers was widespread. In general, the goal was to make a patient's stay in the hospital more pleasant. Initially, the girls simply delivered mail or patient meals, but as nurses became overburdened, the volunteers took on additional duties. Now, a candy striper might help feed, or read to, a patient; assist as a patient is discharged; or deliver messages. Other duties include transporting book or video carts to patient rooms.
Much has changed in the program over the years. In the early years, the training lasted months, but now most hospitals train the volunteers in a few days. There are also male candy stripers, although most hospitals have a higher percentage of young female volunteers than males. "Volunteer" is the more likely term used nowadays, and the uniform is not likely the red and white jumper of years past.
Most hospitals accept volunteers aged 13-18 for candy striping. Hospital volunteers perform a variety of duties, which may include staffing reception areas and gift shops; filing documents; or transporting medical records, lab specimens, and drugs from unit to unit. A volunteer might also assist with cleaning duties in a hospital. In some instances, volunteers only complete clerical tasks, due to insurance liability.
A candy striper program is an excellent introduction to the field of health care. Students who are interested in the medical field often find volunteering or job shadowing at a hospital beneficial. The hospital arranges the volunteer's schedule and the individual reports to a volunteer coordinator, nurse or physician.
Most hospitals require potential candy stripers to complete an application and interview session, and to provide character references and parental consent to volunteer. Other requirements include a TB skin test and physical exam. Once a young applicant is accepted as a volunteer, he or she will likely be required to wear a uniform and ID badge, observe all medical center policies, and maintain excellent conduct.
Candy Striper Uniform
Candy stripers received their name from their iconic uniforms, which consisted of a white blouse and a striped pinafore. The original candy stripers at East Orange General Hospital sewed their own pinafores from a red and white seersucker fabric called "candy stripe," a variant of the popular blue and white "railroad stripe." When other hospitals introduced candy striper programs, they followed suit, and the striped uniform became the standard.
Candy stripers continued wearing the striped pinafore into the 1990s. Today, most hospital volunteers follow a business casual dress code, usually wearing a polo shirt or uniform shirt and slacks. Scrubs are generally discouraged to avoid volunteers being mistaken for nurses. However, in some hospitals, volunteers wear striped aprons or scrub tops in homage to candy stripers.
Candy Striper Duties
The original role of candy stripers was to comfort and assist patients. They would bring patients their meals, deliver flowers and mail, bring them books and magazines and sit with patients who didn't have visitors. Many patients relished the opportunity to speak with the pleasant volunteers instead of medical staff.
Candy stripers' duties also included light janitorial work, cafeteria work, laundry, delivering messages and lab samples and sterilizing equipment.
Candy stripers originated during a time when career choices for young women were limited. Parents often encouraged their daughters to volunteer as candy stripers in preparation for a nursing career. Many girls developed a passion for nursing as a result of their volunteer work.
Do They Still Have Candy Stripers at Hospitals?
Hospital volunteers still exist, and some hospitals still offer volunteer programs for teenagers. High school students can earn college credit for volunteering in a hospital. Like many candy stripers, students who volunteer in hospitals often do so as a first step toward a medical career.
Now that male volunteers are more common and the striped pinafore has fallen out of fashion, most hospitals simply use the terminology "volunteers" and "junior volunteers." A few hospitals still refer to their volunteers as candy stripers.
Changes in laws and regulations have changed the training requirements for volunteers. Modern volunteers must be trained in patient privacy laws, for example. However, today's volunteers fulfill many of the same duties as candy stripers.
Hospital volunteers often serve as greeters and visitor guides. They answer questions, staff the gift shop and help people navigate the hospital. They may offer support to patients' families and help them access community resources.
Volunteers assist patients by bringing them snacks and water and transporting them from their rooms to other areas of the hospital. Volunteers may also assist with music and art therapy programs and other activities for patients.
Volunteers often assist with clerical tasks, such as preparing mail, making copies, scanning and shredding documents. Some medical offices have volunteers who assist with data entry and filing.
Hospital volunteers may assist housekeeping staff by folding laundry and restocking supplies. Some hospitals rely on volunteers to keep the lobby and waiting areas tidy and pleasant, including watering plants, restocking magazines and decorating for holidays.