This summer, Elizabeth Coloccia did a lot more than just hang out at the pool or mall with her friends.
She also spent every Monday morning working at Chandler Regional Medical Center, helping patients and visitors navigate their way through the nuances of a hospital stay.
Elizabeth, who just began her junior year at Corona del Sol High School, was one of 166 teens who participated in the popular Dignity Health East Valley Summer Volunteen program.
By the time school started again, Elizabeth had logged more than 40 hours working at the Outpatient Registration desk. She said the volunteer work kept her busy doing a variety of jobs.
“I would run patients to their various tests and surgeries, deliver mail and flowers, and check in patients,” she said.
“My favorite job was delivering flowers. It was always so exciting to put a smile on a patient’s face.”
On Aug. 15, the latest group of teen volunteers was honored during a graduation ceremony held at Noah’s in Chandler.
Barb Farmer, the hospital’s volunteer services manager, said that the Volunteen program has grown steadily since it began in 2008.
“The first year we received 75 applications; this year we received 296,” Farmer said, adding that since the program began, about 350 teens have put in more than 14,000 hours of volunteer work.
“This year our Volunteens served 8,202 hours, which is an increase of over 1,000 hours from last year.”
In order to be part of the Volunteen program, students who are between the ages of 14 and 18 must go through an extensive application process, and be willing to attend three educational sessions and serve for a minimum of 40 hours, according to Farmer.
“The interview process consists of behavioral interview questions, and four students are interviewed together by three employees,” Farmer said.
“We are looking for students who are confident, compassionate and who are interested in a glimpse of health care career fields.”
Students who complete all of the requirements during the summer are automatically invited back the following year, Farmer said.
“This year we had 79 first level, 60 second level, 26 third level and one fourth level. It blows my mind that our students love this program so much they spend their entire summers with us again and again.”
The Volunteens help with a variety of jobs at both Chandler Regional and Mercy Gilbert medical centers, said Farmer, who oversees the program at both sites. Duties include everything from stocking gloves and assisting with paperwork to data input in the Ultrasound department and working in the gift shop or cafeteria.
Teens are allowed to request the position, day and time of work, Farmer said.
“We even invite students who have a passion for music to sit in our lobby (at Mercy Gilbert) and play comforting music for our patients and visitors. There is something for everyone.”
Because Farmer wanted to be sure that the Volunteens get the broadest view possible of a variety of medical professions, she arranges for staff members to conduct educational seminars that the teens can attend.
“I wanted them to have their ‘light bulb moment’ where they might not have ever considered a career but now they think ‘oh my gosh, that’s it,’” she said.
“What better way to teach passion than to have the Volunteens learn from those who are most passionate? We gave them every variety of topics, from internationally known heart surgeon Dr. Dib speaking about his cardiovascular research to how we support our patients’ faith, beliefs and values, and how our pet visitations work. We try to cover mind, body and spirit.”
The Volunteen program can be especially beneficial to high school students who are considering a future career in medicine, Farmer said.
“We just had one of our former students drop in after graduating from UCLA. He is waiting to be accepted to medical school and speaks highly of what the program meant to him. Several of these students have received scholarships to pursue health care career fields from the volunteer board.”
Although Elizabeth is not sure yet what career she intends to pursue, she said being part of the Volunteen program was a great way for her to spend time this summer working with other students who have similar interests, meeting patients, and “getting to explore the multitude of job opportunities available at a hospital.”
“This program has really helped me see that there are more than just doctors at a hospital.”