Hospital ‘vols’ more than just volunteers

Tom KingDowntown, Our Town Leaders

When you join the Amy Perkins Team at the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) as a volunteer, you’re much more than “just” an unpaid volunteer who shows up two or three days a week. There’s much more to it than that.

Perkins is director of Volunteer and Visitor Services at UTMC. She loves her job. She’s fun – but she’s also all business. She spoke to the Rotary Club of Knoxville and it was an eye-opening presentation.

“When you volunteer with us, you’re a UTMC team member immediately,” she said. “You have to know what you’re doing. You must know hospital protocols and things like HIPPA. You’re not just filling a seat on the bus. When you walk around with that UTMC badge on you’re not just a volunteer.”

And she talked about the “perks” of volunteering – free parking, a $10 meal and getting together with other volunteers for fun. “But the biggest perk is how you feel when you go home, that you did work that mattered to people. That’s the No. 1 benefit,” she said.

Today she has 147 volunteers who work in one of 23 service areas. Last year her team put in 35,169 service hours for a cost savings of just more than $849,000. That is an incredible number. In 2019, pre-Covid, the savings amounted to $1 million.

Perkins has been in this job since 2015 and that year had 107 volunteers and by 2018 that number climbed to 165. Then came Covid and on March 18, 2020, the volunteers were asked to stay home because of the risks. “That reduced our team to zero pretty fast,” she said. “They were gone for 41 weeks. And once everyone was fully vaccinated, 74% returned.”

Potential volunteers must be screened, go through a background check and drug screening and an interview with Perkins. That helps her place a volunteer in the right job. “Recruiting is sometimes a challenge because the nature of our business requires that volunteers be up-to-date and current on their knowledge on how best to support our departments. This comes with regular attendance,” Perkins explained.

“To ensure the safety of our patients, we are unable to recruit one-time or occasional volunteers. This is why we run a dynamic program and currently have little to no turnover within our department. When volunteers leave our program, it is typically because they are moving away, or are experiencing health issues.”

If you are interested in exploring the possibility of volunteering, drop her an email at

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at or call him at 865-659-3562.

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