Catherine Burgess


Placement: Health Awareness Volunteer

Organisation: Cancer Research UK

Ideal career: Clinical Health Psychology

Catherine Burgess a Psychology Graduate from Leeds who is now studying for an MSc in Health Psychology. During this time she has taken on two roles; a Health Awareness Volunteer for Cancer Research UK and a Hospital Support volunteer for CLIC Sargent on the children's oncology ward at Leeds General Infirmary. Catherine initially started to volunteer in order to gain experience in psychology and believes that these experiences really helped with getting a place on her MSc.

Volunteering makes an impact on the community and makes me more employable

I didn't volunteer a huge amount before coming to University, but I did volunteer at a local primary school as I was unsure about whether I wanted to go into teaching. I really enjoyed the opportunity but it made me realise that I didn't want to choose it as a future career, so the experience was really valuable in that sense.

When I started University, I knew I needed to start volunteering to gain experience working with people, especially with me doing a degree such a psychology. I feel Leeds is particularly good at engaging students in co-curricular activities, and the academic staff in the Psychology department encouraged us to get involved and engage with volunteering. I found it really hard to find opportunities in first year, as many places wanted previous experience and the Volunteering Hub wasn't in existence.

I started volunteering with Cancer Research UK in my second year, where I volunteered on the health awareness  road show around the North West area. I distribute health information to the general public to raise awareness of cancer and am available to answer any questions which they may have. There are nurses on the roadshow unit so I am able to re-direct members of the public if I get asked questions I'm unsure about, so I always feel supported. I really enjoy volunteering at the road show because I get on really well with the rest of the team and I get to meet a variety of people, all with different needs – I don't often get to speak to the same person  twice! Cancer is a sensitive area for many people so I must be prepared to change my approach to meet the needs of each individual. This has really helped me develop my communication skills.

I started volunteering with CLIC Sargent nearly a year ago now, helping the play team on the children's oncology ward at Leeds General Infirmary. Today I was playing with a Postman Pat toy and a train with a young boy and after I was cleaning toys, so my role is can be quite varied! I just do whatever needs doing as I understand that health and hygiene are equally important in a hospital. Sometimes I have to engage and motivate the children to get involved, especially when they're tired, but it's really nice when they do and I get to see them enjoying themselves.

I have really loved volunteering and my confidence levels have increased from talking to members of the public about their health. As my volunteering experience is directly linked to my Undergraduate and Masters degrees, I am hope this will help with my employability prospects. I've met and worked with some amazing people and I feel privileged to have worked in the health environment. If you're looking at working with people, I think as long as you get experience it doesn't necessarily matter if that's volunteering or a paid job, and volunteering can give you the experience to get a job.

Some people think volunteering is similar to a job but your just not getting paid for it, but I think volunteering offers much more that and gives you experience you need and can't always get from a paid job. I get so much out of volunteering whilst giving something back to other people who need it most. I feel the staff I have worked with really value me for being there and having a willingness to get involved with any task that needs doing. This makes me feel extremely appreciated!