Hospitals embrace latest crop of ‘Volunteens’
Every summer, around 150 high school age students faithfully spend at least four hours a week volunteering at either Chandler Regional or Mercy Gilbert Medical Center as part of the hospitals’ Volunteen program.
Some, like Lindsey Chew and Claire Mahaffy, both 17, are motivated to volunteer by their desire to work in the medical field some day. Others, like Paulo G. Peña, 17, just want the chance to do something to help the community.
No matter what their reasons may be for taking part in the fourth annual summer Volunteen program, Barb Farmer, Program Manager in the Volunteer Services Department, said each and every one of the teens plays an important part of the healing process at Dignity Health.
Since the Volunteen program began, more than 500 teenagers have participated. Farmer said last year’s group logged 8,202 hours of volunteer time—a number they plan to beat this summer. Students work one 4-hour shift each week and have the chance to pick up extra shifts if they desire, Farmer said.
“They do amazing projects for the hospital including making all new badges for our employees, packing up old equipment, taking inventory of patient care needs such as walkers and wheel chairs, and helping with research projects—either by researching topics on the web or data entry,” Farmer said, adding that depending on their experience in the program, the teens are designated as Level 1 through Level 4 Volunteens.
“We view our program as an opportunity for students to learn about health care fields—for example, we have 26 education sessions offered this year—and learn leadership skills,” Farmer said.
“Students interview and are chosen to become shift leaders and they have responsibilities to manage the education sessions from reading bios of our presenters to taking role, to entering hours into the computer.”
The Volunteens can also have a direct and positive effect on the people coming into the hospitals, Farmer said. For example, Lindsey makes origami figures for the patients and their families in the surgery waiting areas.
Lindsey, who has spent at least four hours a week over the past three summers volunteering at Chandler Regional Medical Center, is currently a Level 3 Volunteen. The high school senior says she hopes to be a pediatric surgeon one day, and knows the hospital environment is the best place to learn and see what working in medicine is like.
“I would never cross paths with half the people I meet if not for the Volunteen program, and everyone has a story to tell and wisdom to share. In the doctors, patients, nurses, and adult volunteers alike, I’ve found willing teachers,” she said.
This summer, Lindsey is responsible for bringing family members into the pre-operation and cath lab. To help keep their spirits up, Lindsey said she does what she can to cheer them up.
“As an avid origami enthusiast, I often fold paper cranes and give them to anyone and everyone I meet–hopefully the doctors, nurses, volunteers, and patients like them.”
Claire, who is currently a Level 4 Volunteen and Shift Leader for Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, is staying busy handling the educational sessions that the Volunteens attend and inputting the hours they are working.
“I also make rounds every week to see the Volunteens who are working on Wednesdays,” she said. “I am a sort of liaison between the volunteer staff and the Volunteens.”
Although Claire has enjoyed being part of the Volunteen program each summer, she said this year is her favorite.
“I have the highest opinion of this program,” she said, adding that being a Volunteen has confirmed her desire to go into the medical field.
“It is the perfect way to get a behind-the-scenes view of what exactly goes into making a hospital work. All the staff, nurses, doctors, and other volunteers really make me feel welcome. The patients also express their gratitude for what we Volunteens do and the contribution we are making,” she said.
Paulo said he is enjoying being a Level 1 Volunteen at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center.
“I wanted to be a part of the friendly, caring, and loving atmosphere, while helping people,” he said.
“I stock the shelves of the gift room. Also, I restock different areas of the gift shop while making them aesthetically pleasing. Another one of my main jobs is to organize the stock rooms that keep the products that are not being displayed. I also label, price, and organize new shipments for the gift shop.”
Paulo said he enjoys having the opportunity to interact with people while working in a friendly environment and getting some volunteer hours under his belt.
“The staff that come in, and also the people I work under, treat me with respect and care. The job I undertook is perfect for me because I love organizing things, and I enjoy doing the multiple jobs assigned to me.”
Farmer said she and the rest of the staff including the physicians and nurses look forward to the arrival of the Volunteens every year.
“We know that our students work very hard in school and we want them to know that when school gets difficult they can reflect on the experience they had at Chandler Regional and Mercy Gilbert Medical Centers,” she said.