Investigating Barriers to Volunteerism in a Medical School Volunteer Patient Program: A program development project

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Travis Schroeder


Medical Education, Volunteer Patient, Preclerkship,


Background: Volunteer patients (VPs) are commonly used for the education of pre-clerkship medical students to facilitate realistic, one-on-one learning. They are available at no cost and are often enthusiastic educators of future physicians. Exposure to socio-culturally diverse VPs will help to prepare students for the patient diversity of medical practice.
Methods: In June 2012, the Mississauga Academy of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto launched a volunteer patient recruitment program to recruit more socio-culturally diverse VPs. To understand barriers to volunteerism and garner suggestions for improving and expanding the program, the existing 85 VPs were surveyed using semi-structured questionnaires.
Results: The response rate was 41%. Most VPs were Caucasian (74%), spoke English as their first language (83%) and had post-secondary education (85%). Most VPs agreed or strongly agreed that they enjoyed the volunteer experience (89%) and were likely to volunteer again (94%). Top perceived participation barriers were lack of program awareness in the community, educational session timing during working hours, and privacy concerns. Key program improvement suggestions were advertising, recruiting, improving communication with volunteers and accommodating cultural preferences.
Conclusions: The majority of VPs had a positive experience and they provided constructive recommendation for program improvement. Targeted recruitment strategies to increase VP diversity are being developed.