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What Is a Candy Striper?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

Assisting Visitors

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.

Helping Patients

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.

Office Work

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.

Housekeeping

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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon352828 — On Oct 25, 2013

I really want to be a nurse, however I have no idea what it is like. What should I do to qualify to be a candy striper?

By anon288531 — On Aug 30, 2012

My name Is Audrey. I'm a candy striper and I live in Illinois. All you have to do is call your local hospital and have them connect you to volunteer services and you will have an interview and after the interview, if you get notified. then you can be a candy striper. If you didn't already have the TB test in the last year you will have to have two of those. Then you will train for however long the training program is for a candy striper. After that, you will officially be a candy striper.

By lubna12 — On Jun 24, 2012

I appreciate the work of candy stripers. Keep it up!

By anon275127 — On Jun 16, 2012

How can we get a candy striper program at our hospital? We desperately need them. Our hospital is the Commonwealth Health Center on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. We are a commonwealth of the U.S. -- Susan

By anon125189 — On Nov 08, 2010

I'm 13 and From Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. I don't know if I'm old enough to be a candy striper but i really want to be. Anyone know the right age?

By anon121852 — On Oct 25, 2010

I'm Breyana from the Dallas, Fort Worth part of Texas and I'm 14 and really want to be a Candy Striper but I don't know if any of the hospitals in my area do that or if I'm old enough. Any help?

By anon112748 — On Sep 21, 2010

I am a candy striper and you learn many things and feel good because you help people. Your job may look little but it makes a big difference.

By anon95514 — On Jul 12, 2010

I'm 14. I live in Florida and i want to be a candy striper but I'm not sure if I'm old enough. How long does it take to become one?

By anon76684 — On Apr 11, 2010

Hy name is Deanna. I want to be a candy striper. I was wondering what the website is for any hospitals in San Diego?

By anon75433 — On Apr 06, 2010

I'm 14 years of age and i failed eight grade. my grandfather is a volunteer and it has always been my dream to be a candy striper. i went to the website and the way it's set up, you have to be smart. I'm a caring, loving person. Should i even try or just give up? Help me?

By anon73583 — On Mar 28, 2010

my boyfriend heard of this and now he makes me wear the costume every weekend. he says not to complain or i will wear it every day. it makes him happy so i do it.

By anon67907 — On Feb 27, 2010

For all of those who don't know how to become a candy striper, all you need to do is go to your local hospital (or online) and ask about volunteering.

By anon67830 — On Feb 26, 2010

My name is Suzanna and i would like to be a candy striper i am 15 years old and i am going to study to be a emt and i live in maine.

By anon61843 — On Jan 22, 2010

I'm Morgan and I'm 17 and I'm a candy striper. To become one, all you have to do is contact your hospital and ask the receptionist who you can talk to to do volunteer/candy striping. they usually interview you and if you make it you do a few weeks of training before they let you go on your own. this isn't a paid job but it really is worth it!

hope that helps.

By anon50165 — On Oct 26, 2009

I am 18. I was looking for a Halloween constume and i found this really cute looking nurse costume. I picked it up and it said candy striper. I really like it and i got it. Then i wondered what a candy striper actually was. So i looked it up! And i love t!! I want to be one so bad now!

By anon47920 — On Oct 08, 2009

Hi my name is steven and i was reading up on candy stripers because i want to be a nurse as well. I actully seen the term candy striper in one of my books and i thought it odd so i looked it up, and wow i think i want to dress and play the part.

By anon40751 — On Aug 10, 2009

Hi, i'm megan. i'm 15, turning 16 pretty soon and i want to be a candy striper. how would i sign up and become one? am i too young?

By anon39188 — On Jul 30, 2009

Hi, I'm Alyssa i'm very soon to be 14 and super caring and loving.

I live in a very tiny county, and my town, doesn't even have a stop light. We are lucky to have 2 gas stations and a food lion.(=

I've wanted to get a job for so long, but my mom thinks i should wait another year, so i turned to volunteer work so i'm not sitting on my bum all the time.

I couldn't figure out what to do,and then i was at a a hospital in a neighboring county and saw volunteers all over the place, and that sparked my interest.

Now i can't get it off my mind. i went to my local hospitals' web site, and looked around, it says they have an auxiliary, but the way its worded it sounds like it's for adults only. should i even bother calling the number listed?

Please help

By anon38128 — On Jul 23, 2009

Hi, I would like to become a candy striper. I'm 15 years old and I've always wanted to become a candy striper, but the only thing is I don't know how to become one.

By anon35056 — On Jul 01, 2009

i want to be a candy striper becuz im gr8t 2 work wit and im easy going and i need a summer job :)

By anon31160 — On Apr 30, 2009

I want to be a candy stripper because I want to help kids, but the nearest hospital says they don't have that. Is there something else in a hospital that can help sick kids?

By Janays45 — On Apr 09, 2009

I really want to be a candystriper. My sister did it for 1 year and I wanted to be one ever since. I think it is great to help kids and I'm also going to do big brother big sister. I want to work in the medical field with kids. I'm 13 and want to do this soooo bad.

How do I sign up?

By anon28707 — On Mar 20, 2009

Anyone else giggle at the name "Candy Stripper" and hesitate before Googling it?

By anon25903 — On Feb 05, 2009

I checked my local hospital's Web site, and contacted the volunteer coordinator. There was a short application, with a little info about me.

They seem to like it if you have previous experience with volunteering or with medical issues - like having been a patient. But that isn't necessary at all.

Here, I think the minimum age is eighteen, but I

have seen some facilities' Web sites list younger

ages, like down to sixteen.

They called my two personal references, and ran a

police check for any convictions. There was a very short interview, but, by that time seemed happy to have me join.

My current duties include giving directions, and showing people to their appointments or visits. I also go around the wards with a trolly of books, offering reading material to people. There are some other duties available, basically being supportive of patients and visitors, which I hope to move on to in the future. Eventually, I would like to earn my way to a support position at the Emergency Dept.

It is important to note that there is a serious time commitment. I have been doing this once per week for at least three hours per time. I usually stay longer, on my choice.

Also, this is a very physical job. Lots and

lots of standing and walking.

Here, the basic uniform is a black polo shirt, with a yellow logo of the hospital's volunteer organization. Plus my own black pants.

So... just call your local hospital, and ask if they have a volunteer coordinator or do a Web search for opportunities in your area. Also, some areas have organizations that do match-ups for many different types of volunteering.

Hope this helps.

By stephenie13 — On Jan 25, 2009

HI my name is Stephenie and i want to become a candy striper. I live in polk county and i need advice to become a candy striper. I am only 13 but I don't care because I wanted to be a candy striper for 2 years.

By anon23664 — On Dec 30, 2008

I've been a candy striper for the past 3 years. At the hospital I volunteer at you need to be 15 years of age and previous volunteer experience isn't necessary. The best way to get involved is to go to a local hospital and ask about the junior volunteer programs offered. You would go for orientations and get trained into the department you would like to assist in. No money is involved because it's volunteering but there are incentives like free flu shots for you and then an annual TB testing to make sure you are not sick. Hope this helps. :)

By anon20284 — On Oct 28, 2008

I would like to be a candy striper but i have no idea what to do to get to this point. got any advice?

By anon18829 — On Sep 30, 2008

im looking into candy striping and want to know what kind of skills you need to possess.

By anon16727 — On Aug 13, 2008

I'm 13 and I'm looking into being a candy striper. I've been wanting to be a PA for a while now. My mom just told me about this a few days ago and it sounds really cool. Hopefully, I will get to do this real soon and it will help me plan for the future! :)

By anon13804 — On Jun 04, 2008

I am 11 years of age and I want to be a candy striper my mom just told me about it and she says it would be a good job for me. Can you be any younger?

By anon10100 — On Mar 19, 2008

What type of uniform did the candy striper wear between the years 1992 and 1997? Pattie

By anon8445 — On Feb 13, 2008

What do the people do in a physical checkup? And do you get paid for doing this if i did i would donate it to charity.

By anon7308 — On Jan 23, 2008

hi my name is alex and i am 13 years old and i have been wanting to candy stripe for about a year and this summer i am going to with my friend. we both want to be a nurse when we are older and we both thought this would be an excellent experience for us. we heard a lot of people doing it and saying good things about it so we are curious to find out ourselves and hoping this will help us for our plans for the future!

By anon7292 — On Jan 23, 2008

Hi I want to be candy striper. I live near Orange County and I don't know where to join. Please advise me.

By anon5852 — On Dec 07, 2007

hi i'm maxie and until last year i had no idea what the term meant and when my mom's friend suggested me getting into the program i was like what, you want me to strip for candy and my mom's OK with that?

then she told me what it meant and now i'm a candy striper

By anon4444 — On Oct 18, 2007

Hi my name is Shana. I'm doing a research project on Candy Stripers and I want to know if you can tell me who founded the first Hospital that decided on the idea of having Candy Stripers?

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