People might find it strange that I would consider my very first job as the catalyst for my professional career. My jobs have taken me everywhere from being a waitress, to packing hoses at a parts factory as a college job to pay my way, to Counseling, to Rehab Therapy at a Mental Hospital, to a stint working at an insurance agency, and finally to my current profession of teaching. However my very first job prepared me for the world of work.
My very first job was as a Candy Striper at the age of 13. I can hear people saying, well that is volunteer so should not be considered work. Believe you me, Candy Stripers were expected to abide by the same regulations that other employees were. But first, anyone born past 1980 probably has no idea what a Candy Striper is.
A Candy Striper was usually a teenage girl, at least 13, who agreed to go through training, punch into a time clock, and serve as a volunteer in some area of the hospital. You could be working everywhere from answering phones at the front desk, to delivering meals, to taking gifts and flowers to the rooms. The name Candy Striper comes from the fact that the uniform was a striped red and white pinafore. Very few hospitals have this program now, and even fewer that have a volunteer program for teens call it a Candy Striper program.
Supposedly the program began in the 1940’s as a social outlet for a group of high school students in New Jersey. The girls sewed the dresses they would wear at school from material the teacher brought in. All the teacher had was red and white striped material. For some reason, the name stuck and the program began to grow across the United States. Now teen volunteers are used more for clerical duties, as there is concern about patient confidentiality. However when I was a Candy Striper I had full access to patients rooms. Listed are five ways that this prepared me for real life and future work.
1) Training is important.
We received two weeks training before being allowed to work in the hospital. We covered everything from relationships, to sympathy for patients, to practicing taking blood pressure and temperatures. Why we did the later, I am not sure as we were not allowed to do any nursing duties. We then discussed work habits like being on time, dressing appropriately, and what not to talk about at work.
2) Be dependable.
The next step was to be introduced to your unit or area where you would work. We were carefully advised to not be late, to show up when assigned, and to call in when ill. We were discouraged from calling in, unless we were ill or it was an emergency. What a great experience for a 13 year old. Right away I learned that any work , even volunteer work, was serious business. We were encouraged to be dependable.
3) Learn to be respectful to co – workers.
I noticed so many young 13 and 14 year olds who were rude and had a very negative attitude. I noticed quickly that those same young ladies never showed up for work again. Nothing was every said, but I got the message quickly. Be rude to your co-workers or bosses and you would have no job.
4) Be courteous to whomever your customers are.
There is probably no job that one can do where somewhere along the line, you do not have customers. Even the president has customers. They are of course considered the voters. During training, we were advised that the patients and their families were our customers. We were to be polite at all times and if an issue arouse, we were to contact our supervisor. Seems this is a lesson that a lot of people in the work world could use today. Remember the adage that the customer is always right.
5) Be flexible on a job and willing to transfer to other duties as needed.
During the two summers I worked as a Candy Striper I noticed that the Candy Stripers who stayed and started earning college scholarship money were those who were flexible and willing to work in different positions in the hospital. Those who were unwilling to do as they were requested seemed to not come back. I learned quickly that by making yourself a team player and being willing to be flexible, you would be seen as a valuable member of the team. I began by answering phones at the front desk, then graduate to serving food. Eventually , my job was to take flowers and gifts to the rooms.
Who knew that a Candy Striper learned so much? Above all else, I learned that there are rewards for a job well done. We had a yearly banquet where awards were given out, and the most profitable awards every year were four full scholarships to the nursing school on the hospital grounds. While I did not chose the field of nursing, I did maintain an A average in school and was rewarded with early admittance to college. I credit what I learned as a Candy Striper with helping me to stay on the right path in school and being chosen as one of four high school Juniors who were allowed to enter college a year early.
I am now a far cry from being a nurse, but the rules in the work world are basically the same wherever you may go. I would advise parents to let your child volunteer somewhere in your community and they can begin to learn what they will need for the rest of their work lives.