“Volunteers Don’t Wear Price Tags”: Compensation Discourses and the Hospital Volunteer in 20th Century Health Care

Lucy Vorobej

Award: 2023 Post-Doctoral Fellowship

The COVID-19 pandemic is only the most recent global health crisis to highlight that even those workers who are deemed to be “essential” to health care may not all receive compensation consistent with this proclaimed value. Within this vital workforce are those who receive no compensation at all, volunteers. Despite the inclusion of “hospital volunteer” as a Medical Subject Heading in 1965, limited critical attention has been paid to contemporary and historical analysis of the discourses that simultaneously frame their labour as valuable, yet uncompensated. Lucy’s research uses volunteers as a case study to critically consider the ways in which the labour of care has been positioned within or excluded from frameworks of compensation. If we shy away from examining the economics of care, we risk perpetuating inequities that devalue the contributions made by all individuals involved in patient care in both the historical record and present-day work.