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Nurse’s leap of faith into volunteering

When helping others is your day job, can a similar role after hours offer benefits? Flynn Murphy finds out
It may seem counterintuitive: overworked community nurses taking on volunteer roles in their spare time. However, for Melbourne nurse Linda Cropley, 45, it was a no-brainer decision to commit her days off to helping Christian LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people overcome issues caused by the relationship between their sexuality and their faith.
Knowing the feeling of being caught in the middle influenced Cropley’s decision, five years ago, to take on the Melbourne chapter co-leader role in freedom2b, a non-church, not-for-profit organisation that, she says, “functions as a link between the church world and gay world”.
In addition to the Melbourne chapter, the six-year-old organisation has outreach programs in Perth, Sydney and Brisbane, and runs an online forum that has more than 1200 members. Cropley’s clients range in age from 18 all the way to 75, but the majority are men aged 25-50. She volunteers with her partner, Michelle Kolev, holding monthly meetings, being active on the forum, taking calls, responding to emails and coordinating social media.
Cropley gets enormous satisfaction from her volunteer work.
“Sometimes I want to run away,” she says with a laugh. “I do find it quite overwhelming what people are experiencing, and what they’ve gone through, but I couldn’t walk away. You feel like you are really helping people.”
For Cropley, volunteering has equipped her to better work as a nurse. “The two mesh very well. These people are trusting their lives to you, sharing stuff with you that puts you in a privileged position.
“It’s so much more than volunteering; it’s that typical nurturing thing that comes from being a nurse, and trying to fix things. And you can’t always fix people, but you can certainly help them through the journey.”

There has been little research on the mental-health impacts of volunteering for nurses, says Dr Sam Harvey, workplace mental health researcher with the University of New South Wales. But Harvey says it’s an area worth exploring: “Nurses are a group who report high levels of stress associated with their work. We spend a lot of time looking at what they do in their working hours, but we haven’t spent enough time thinking about the sort of things they do outside of working hours.

“It’s a good idea to look at whether what [nurses] do outside of work can help [their] stress – there’s reason to think that if they find volunteer work gives them a sense of purpose, achievement or wellbeing, then along with physical activities, hobbies and good social support, it’s likely to be a useful thing for them.”

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