A candy striper was traditionally a young, female hospital volunteer -- a concept that originated in the 1940s. The unique job title referred to the candy cane look of the red and white-striped pinafores worn by the volunteers. Traditionally, the girls sewed their own pinafores. East Orange General Hospital in New Jersey started the first candy striper program in 1944.
During the 1950s and 60s, the popularity of candy stripers was widespread. In general, the goal was to make a patient's stay in the hospital more pleasant. Initially, the girls simply delivered mail or patient meals, but as nurses became overburdened, the volunteers took on additional duties. Now, a candy striper might help feed, or read to, a patient; assist as a patient is discharged; or deliver messages. Other duties include transporting book or video carts to patient rooms.
Much has changed in the program over the years. In the early years, the training lasted months, but now most hospitals train the volunteers in a few days. There are also male candy stripers, although most hospitals have a higher percentage of young female volunteers than males. "Volunteer" is the more likely term used nowadays, and the uniform is not likely the red and white jumper of years past.
Most hospitals accept volunteers aged 13-18 for candy striping. Hospital volunteers perform a variety of duties, which may include staffing reception areas and gift shops; filing documents; or transporting medical records, lab specimens, and drugs from unit to unit. A volunteer might also assist with cleaning duties in a hospital. In some instances, volunteers only complete clerical tasks, due to insurance liability.
A candy striper program is an excellent introduction to the field of health care. Students who are interested in the medical field often find volunteering or job shadowing at a hospital beneficial. The hospital arranges the volunteer's schedule and the individual reports to a volunteer coordinator, nurse or physician.
Most hospitals require potential candy stripers to complete an application and interview session, and to provide character references and parental consent to volunteer. Other requirements include a TB skin test and physical exam. Once a young applicant is accepted as a volunteer, he or she will likely be required to wear a uniform and ID badge, observe all medical center policies, and maintain excellent conduct.