Every Retirement Needs a Purpose

Category: Communities


John Hoffman

Written by John Hoffman, retiree, Department of Management and Entrepreneurship

I found mine as a volunteer at the UT Medical Center. Every Tuesday morning you will find me somewhere in the hospital; often walking between lab, pharmacy, blood bank and infusion center to serve the needs of patients. When I’m not running for whatever is needed, I might be the guy serving a snack, cleaning an infusion bay, giving directions, pushing a wheel chair, restocking supplies, or doing an inventory. On Thursday mornings I’m a Patient Ambassador visiting patients on 7H – the cardio thoracic surgery unit.

Being a volunteer is richly rewarding. I feel like I am doing something useful and contributing to the benefit of others. It has also been a rich opportunity to learn, and especially to appreciate all of the angels of mercy working throughout UT Medical Center. Volunteers quickly learn that modern medicine is complicated, often miraculous, and only possible because so many people give way above and beyond just “doing a job.”

The pandemic brought out the best and the worst in many of us. I’d like to think it is over, but it may be with us forever. Regardless of your feelings about vaccines, quarantines, masks, and where did the darn thing come from in the first place, I hope everyone appreciates and respects the sacrifices, the caring compassion, and the effort of the entire healthcare team. Doctors and nurses – sure thing, but it goes much deeper and broader. The people who sweep the floors, clean the bathrooms, run the tests, provide the therapies, serve food, park cars, run the gift shop, provide directions with a smile, and yes provide the administrative and executive leadership – we need and should appreciate them all. They did, and do give their all.

As a volunteer I have come to appreciate a number of things:

  1. Forest Gump is right, “life is like a box of chocolates”. I never know what I will find in a room during a patient visit. I never know what’s behind the question, the tears, the look of being lost as I encounter people everywhere from the parking garage to random hallways. I never know what I will hear when a patient trusts me enough to tell me their story, as they await an infusion of a drug or a unit of blood that is keeping them alive, or at least improving the quality of their lives.
  2. A smile and a moment of time can make a huge difference in someone’s day. Yes, you can see a smile, even behind a mask. We really are all alike on this journey called life. We want to know someone cares. We want to know that someone appreciates what we are doing, or what we are dealing with.
  3. General Neyland was right – always give your all, and good things will happen.

So, what does a volunteer do? UTMC’s 125 volunteers do many different jobs. You might see a volunteer at the information desks. You might see them helping out in the ER. A volunteer might bring a warm blanket, or a snack to someone in the chemo center. I can assure you those warm blankets feel like a gift from heaven. You might see them, typically in green, as they go off to the nursery to cuddle babies. If you visit the gift shop, please know that virtually everyone in there is a volunteer. AND, the proceeds from that gift shop have funded research and other projects throughout the hospital. Others serve as administrative assistants. Still others push wheelchairs. And so much more. It is easy to find a position that fits the interests, and the fitness of everyone. We typically work one, or perhaps two, four hour shifts each week, but a small number do much more. The choice is the volunteers to make. We are unpaid, except for a little lunch money. Once vaccines were available many of us worked during some of the toughest days of Covid. Volunteers show up, work hard, and make a difference.

I hope you can sense why I’m a volunteer. What’s your purpose in retirement? I know each of us made a difference in our work lives and in our families. The UTMC experience is my opportunity to continue to do that, while enjoying the retirement rewards of travel, family time, hobby time, and more.

To learn more, or to apply to be a volunteer, visit the UTMC Volunteer Services web page.