Volunteering Helps Others, Yourself

As a physician, you are intimately familiar with what it's like to serve others. So, when your career winds down, will you miss that aspect of your life? You don't have to.

As a physician, you are intimately familiar with what it’s like to serve others. So, when your career winds down, will you miss that aspect of your life? You don’t have to.

A recent article about low-cost leisure activities you can pursue in retirement left off one of the biggest and most potentially rewarding activities: Volunteering. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Association of American Retired Persons (AARP), and volunteer organizations show there has been a substantial increase in retirees volunteering both domestically and abroad.

One reason for the growth is that people are living longer, giving them time to fill after their working careers end. But beyond merely filling time, volunteering provides a sense of purpose and utility that can’t necessarily be quantified, but is very real for those willing and able to continue to serve others. While there are many reasons to consider volunteering, a few of the benefits include:

1. Continuing to pursue your life’s calling: There is tremendous need for volunteers with healthcare experience. Just make sure the services you may be providing are very clearly spelled out, and that you won’t potentially face any medical liability claims.

2. Pursue a different life calling: Maybe you’ve always wanted to help build low-income housing, feed the homeless, or teach children with learning disabilities to read. Whatever your desire, there is need to match up with it. Take the opportunity to pursue a calling you may not even know you had.

3. Make a difference in someone’s life: When you first start researching volunteer opportunities, you may be overwhelmed by the number of options there are and the number of people who need help in some form or another. Don’t be. You won’t solve world hunger or adult illiteracy or any number of issues by volunteering. But you will almost certainly make a difference in someone’s life. That may, in turn, make a big difference in your life.

4. Travel with a purpose: No matter where you live, there’s plenty of need for volunteers in your state, county, and municipality. But there’s need across the country and across the world as well. If you have somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit, you can combine your desire to travel with the desire to help others. Many large volunteer organizations list activities by location, so you can do a simple search of the State or Country’s official website to find an activity that matches up.

Keep in mind that most charities won’t pay for your travel costs, but, according to the IRS, travel costs incurred will be tax deductible under certain circumstances. Read that link closely, however; one of the restrictions is “The deduction qualifies only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation in the travel. However, the deduction will qualify even if you enjoy the trip.” Good to know, and also good to know that the IRS website includes a little sly humor.

Because of the wealth of opportunities that abound, it can be slightly overwhelming to figure out where to devote your efforts. Start with a personal assessment of what’s important to you. Don’t think about just the potential scope of the volunteering task, but also the impact you can have, the time commitment it would take to make that impact, and whether there is a philosophical fit with the organization you’re considering.