Posted on: 3 April 2023

The story and image on this page is from the Helpforce website.

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Originally from Mexico City, Marlen has worked across the Americas, but when her husband got a job in the UK, she unexpectedly found herself at a crossroads, unsure about what to do next in her career. When she heard about the Volunteer to Career programme, Marlen discovered that there was more to life than finance.

"…I thought it would be like an admin call to arrange to send important documents to someone. But when I listened, I realised the nurse was chasing an approval to get medication for a patient who was in their last days of life.”

Marlen's story

I’ve always worked for financial institutions in different roles, but also volunteered at a children’s centre in Mexico City as well as an immigrant’s centre in the USA. Although working for financial institutions was a great career path from an economic perspective, I never felt the same sense of impact in my work as I did when volunteering. Then my husband got a job in the UK, so we moved over here and suddenly I had no job and no idea on what I wanted to do next. When you come from a different country and you don’t know anybody, it can be a challenging experience. But as a newcomer I believe it is my responsibility to contribute.

I’ve always been interested in healthcare and admire the NHS, but I feel I didn’t have the qualifications to contribute. However, having an opportunity to see NHS staff treat their patients, inspired me to try volunteering. So, in August 2022, I signed up to the volunteer programme with Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust and have been volunteering with the Palliative Care Team. The experience has been amazing.

Volunteering in palliative care

Volunteering in palliative care really put things into perspective for me. My role is to support nurses who go to visit patients of all ages. Some would be elderly and frail. Others would be younger and had been at work a few weeks earlier. Some were parents worrying how their children would cope after they died. Palliative care is complex and can be hard, but I was helping staff to make someone more comfortable and enjoy the time that really matters. Being so close to people at the end of their life reminds you that the things we worry about at our desk jobs in finance, don’t matter that much.

“In my role when someone says, 'this is urgent' they are talking about providing as much quality of life they can for someone who is dying.”


I also helped my manager with a new project to help nurses find the clinical materials they needed to visit patients at home. We launched this new system where we prepared boxes with all the different types of equipment staff might need when visiting patients at home. The aim was to reduce the time spent looking for things the nurses need. With little time nurses want to make their patients as comfortable as possible. There is so much effort going on behind the scenes and I don’t think people outside of the NHS realise the amount of work clinical staff do to keep this big machine working.

Finding a job

I never imagined that I would be applying for a role in the NHS. And yet, that’s what’s happened! In October 2022, I signed up for the Volunteer to Career Program, and my VtC manager played an instrumental role in identifying how my skills and experience in financial institutions could be applied to benefit the NHS in a paid role. That gave me the confidence to apply for a job that I believe will provide me with a new career path. I am extremely interested in data and analytics, which is why I have applied for a Data Analyst job with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) team at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. If I don’t get the job, I will keep volunteering and applying for other roles at the trust.

Challenges and support

The biggest barrier to applying for a job in the NHS was overcoming my worry over my lack of healthcare experience. But with support from my manager in the Palliative Care Team and the VtC program managers, I realised I have a lot to offer the NHS. I am really interested in pursuing a career in the NHS and am open to exploring different roles. For example I used to apply behavioural economics in my previous job, which is where you use research and data insights to influence people’s decision making. Perhaps this is something I might be able to help the NHS with as they treat patients and guide people toward better health.

The future

I will continue to volunteer even after I start working. My managers have been amazingly supportive! They have taken great care of me which for someone new to the country, I really appreciated and I feel a responsibility to give something back to the country that has welcomed my husband and I with open arms. Volunteering has been an effective way for me to understand UK culture, explore a new career path, and to feel like I belong in a place that one day, I hope to call my home.

You can learn more about the Volunteer to Career programme here.