Rackley, a 9-year-old goldendoodle dog, knows just how to make patients smile. She gently places her caramel head on the hospital bed, eagerly wags her tail and peers up through soft, brown eyes. The connection is instant.
“Patients just light up,” said Cathy Gertner, Rackley’s owner and a UF Health Shands pet therapy volunteer. “She was meant for this — she has the sweetest temperament and loves every minute.”
The duo is registered through UF Health Shands Volunteer Services, which gives them access to patients who need visits from a furry friend. This is just one example of the diverse volunteer opportunities offered that benefit our patients, visitors and staff.
Each year, the department places an average of 4,000 volunteers throughout UF Health at UF Health Shands Hospital, UF Shands Children’s Hospital, UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, UF Health Shands Rehab and Psychiatric hospitals, UF Health Medical Plaza and many other programs and practices.
“Our volunteers join because they’re looking for a way to give back — they love helping people,” said Lindsay Krieg, Volunteer Services director. “They’re active, engaged and enjoy interacting with patients, visitors and staff.”
Assignments vary depending on program availability, need and volunteer interest. Some deliver flowers, serve at information desks or guide patients to appointments; others work in clinical areas such as patient units, outpatient practices or in the OR.
Rooted in service
Adult volunteers can join the UF Health Shands Auxiliary, a Volunteer Services program. Established in 1961, the group meets monthly, funds scholarships at UF Health and gives back to the hospital through assistance and service.
Auxiliary members also staff the Hospitality Cart, which sells candy, snacks and gift items in the UF Health Shands Hospital Atrium. The cart is a popular stop for staff, patients and visitors.
An early start
Students age 18 or older comprise the majority of our volunteers. Most plan to pursue a profession in health care — volunteering helps them become familiar with our academic health center and patient care.
A summer VolunTEEN program also offers high school students (ages 14-17) an opportunity to serve in a variety of areas throughout UF Health Shands Hospital.
“Many of our student volunteers represent the future of health care,” said Krieg. “Volunteering gives them an important perspective and shows them how every person in our system contributes to great care.”
Lending a helping paw
A dog’s unconditional love is often just what our patients need — visiting with a pup can bring comfort, spread smiles and relieve stress.
Pet therapy volunteers bring their gentle, trained dogs to meet with patients at UF Health Shands Hospital and UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital. All therapy dogs are registered with the department and a national therapy dog organization. They meet specific guidelines and are accompanied by their owners.
Patients sometimes ask if their own dogs can visit them while hospitalized. Personal pet visitation is allowed under certain circumstances and must be arranged through Volunteer Services.
Pet therapy volunteers wear a green polo with the UF Health logo. A dog handler sporting a green UF Health sticker indicates personal pet visitation.
Volunteers devote thousands of hours of their time and work alongside our care teams to make a positive impact on patients, staff and visitors.
Become a volunteer today
Three key areas where volunteers are needed:
• Information services
• Gift Stop support
• Administrative assistance