The opportunities and challenges in volunteering enable us to sharpen our leadership skills and get to the heart of our “why.”

In health care, our practice finds its purpose — and its heart — in making a positive impact. We strive to do good for our patients, our co-workers, and our profession. Fundamentally, it is why we are all here. However, for many, there is a deep desire to do more. As individuals, we are presented with countless opportunities to serve others, opportunities to stretch beyond the bounds of our standard practice and our comfort zones as volunteers.

Volunteering offers us the chance to lift others up, elevate our career journeys, advance our institutions, and add our voices to the diversity of thought anchoring our profession.

Recognizing the Connection Between Service and Leadership

From the very beginning of my career in medicine, I have seen leadership and service as one and the same. Volunteering is so closely connected to serving others, improving the quality of our practice, and enhancing patient care. Volunteering is inherently part of how we develop our skills as leaders and our understanding of the nuances of our community. Volunteering is not a job. Volunteer work speaks to us as people and individuals. It helps us give back.

I am deeply passionate about giving back, and that passion has guided me into leadership with the volunteer community at the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Volunteering not only helps us channel our distinct sense of purpose. It may, in some moments, be that essential reminder of why we do what we do and what really matters in our work in health care. It rejuvenates our purpose, invigorates our joy, and inspires our leadership.

It also offers us a competitive edge. Volunteers at ARDMS work directly with examination and program development, sharing knowledge and exchanging expertise. Volunteering in these spaces provides opportunities that our workplace may not. My personal volunteer journey has allowed me to be an author, an educator, and a resident expert in sonography. I have been able to travel and explore with more thought and purpose around my practice, and my “why.”

As individuals, we must build and embrace our own sense of how to lead and do good, how to be better people and how to make a mark in both our personal and professional communities. When I volunteer with my church, I am able to take an entirely different journey – and touch a whole different group of people.

We have all been blessed with unique strengths, expertise, and specialized skills. If we choose to leverage our gifts for good, we have the opportunity to make change in ways both seen and unseen, and that contribution can continue to grow, evolve, and be shared in our communities. We can ignite that drive in others.

Learning from Challenges and Humility

There is a certain sense of pride we capture through service. Our expertise carries immediate, tangible value. When we lend our expertise to addressing a distinct need in a given moment, our greatest strengths can shine. This is empowering and deeply validating.

Yet our service, at its best, also finds us humbled. In my personal journey at ARDMS, one of my greatest accomplishments as a volunteer came from being challenged. When I entered the conversation around assessment development with other subject matter experts, I didn’t always feel like a leader.

• I realized that I was not the most knowledgeable person in the room

• I understood that I needed to sharpen my knowledge and expand my learning and expertise.

• I was encouraged, as a professional, to actively evaluate and elevate my practice.

Volunteering presented me the opportunity and the need to think differently. My experience was certainly not unique. As volunteers with fellow experts in our field, we may be challenged to learn new things or be inspired in our practice. We may take what we have learned from our role and return to our institutions energized and better practitioners than when we left. There are little differences in our practices and institutions. Our stories and those of our patients have unique aspects. We all have the chance to learn when we come together.

Contributing to the Conversation Driving Our Profession

Best practices lead, guide, and advance our profession. They are the tools that keep us safe. Institutions like ARDMS cannot work in a vacuum. If we want our voices to guide the future of health care, we need to join the professional conversation. Likewise, serving as a volunteer and sharing in the dialogue around crafting the assessment practices and professional guidelines of tomorrow help us put our expertise into real, tangible action on a much larger and perhaps global scale.

However, it’s about more than sharing our expertise. Volunteering in professional societies is a vital experience for health-care leaders. We find that we are sharpening our technical skills, building our leadership capabilities, and advancing the value of our professional dialogue. We improve our problem solving. We reach outside of the pointed skills required of our routine role, testing ourselves and adding our unique expertise to the room as creators and innovators.

Volunteering opportunities in the program and policy space, in particular, improve our critical thinking and our collective thought. We face the challenge to think outside the box. When we join a volunteering initiative, we embrace the opportunity to work with extremely knowledgeable people, take risks with them and be comfortable driving our profession forward as a community.

Principles of Collaboration

When we think of collaboration, it feels “fun and cohesive,” but that is not always the case. We may find our perspectives challenged. This is the essential collaboration that health care demands.

• Challenge the groupthink.

• Be uncomfortable.

• Don’t back down from struggle.

The idea of embracing disagreement does not come naturally to us, especially when approaching the conversation with strangers. It can be intimidating.

This diversity of thought brings us forcibly outside of our comfort zones. I believe it makes us braver. It has made me a better facilitator of brainstorming sessions and conversations in my personal and professional life. I “borrow” these lessons and carry them with me to every group including my team at work, at home with my kids and to my community.

How to Get Started as a Volunteer

There are more opportunities to volunteer now than ever, and they offer us an invaluable way to channel our “why.” Here are some resources you may wish to explore to help you get started in volunteering.

Visit the websites of organizations you are affiliated with as part of your profession. Most non-profit organizations rely on volunteer subject matter experts to fulfill mission-critical roles. Here are some organizations in the ultrasound and medical imaging space.

• American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM)

• American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)

• American Society of Echocardiography (ASE)

• Society for Vascular Ultrasound (SVU)

• Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS)

• Alliance for Physician Certification and Advancement (APCA)

• Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS)

I never could have guessed how I would be stretched and how I would grow as a volunteer. The opportunities have been amazing. When we approach a chance to serve with the belief that we will impact other lives, it’s inevitable that we walk away having changed our own.

Ms. Williams is vice-chair of the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).