Volunteer workers may fill clinical voids
by Mary Helen Yarborough
While appraising the volunteer program at the Children’s Hospital, Christine Messick discovered that volunteers not only provide an invaluable service to patients and families, but they have become a surprisingly quantifiable resource for clinical recruitment.
Messick, Children’s Hospital volunteer coordinator, had learned that a significant number of her own and other MUSC volunteers were so inspired by their experiences that they sought careers in medicine at MUSC and beyond.
Messick recently conducted an informal survey of former and current volunteers for various programs within the Children’s Hospital. She wanted to find out where these people were, whether they pursued careers in health, and how the experience of volunteering inspired them.
To her delight, her e-mail inbox was flooded with responses from dozens of volunteers who had either gone to college to get a degree in health care or who had actually advanced to become a medical doctor or registered nurse. Many of the responses were from volunteers still on campus, since many of them have since gotten jobs as health practitioners.
Caroline Carpenter was one such volunteer. She now is a registered nurse and part of the cardiothoracic team at Ashley River Tower (ART).
“Volunteering at the Children’s Hospital was the exact reason I’m in health care today,” said Carpenter. “I loved interacting with the children, their families, nurses, doctors and other volunteers. ...Volunteering at MUSC taught me that just by giving a few hours of your time each week makes a huge difference in making someone feel better. Even if you only get one smile from a child or family member for a few seconds, you know for those few seconds they weren’t thinking about their illness.”
Carpenter said her experience as a volunteer helped her define her skills and interests.
“Soon after volunteering, I was accepted into MUSC’s nursing program and graduated in May of 2007 with a bachelor of science in nursing degree. ...Volunteering at MUSC opened my eyes to all areas of medicine. I took my first job as a registered nurse in the main operating room at MUSC and, as I rotated through all types of surgery, I decided that cardiothoracic surgery was the one for me.”
Many volunteers are MUSC employees who contribute during their off-hours. The common theme of the e-mails was how the experience volunteering at the Children’s Hospital helped shape their futures and lured them back to MUSC.
Before volunteering, Nicole Arnette Shelley knew she wanted to work with children, but did not know in what capacity.
“[In 2004] while volunteering, I was able to see the impact MUSC employees had in the lives of children,” said Shelley. “The Children’s Hospital seemed to be such an amazing atmosphere in which to work and I knew I wanted to work there one day, and be a part of the amazing team that cared for children and their families.
“I know that being a volunteer gave me the desire to become a nurse and work with children, and be able to be a part of their care,” recalled Shelley, who in May graduated from MUSC’s College of Nursing and was offered a position on 7C. “Volunteering at the Children’s Hospital was such an amazing experience, because it made me so happy to know that for the few hours I was there, I made a difference.”
From volunteer to doctor
Some volunteers have become medical doctors, or are seeking careers in occupational therapy or even the director of a nonprofit organization.
Jessica Clarke-Pounder, M.D., spent a total of 11 years as an MUSC volunteer, seven of which were at the Children’s Hospital. A second-year pediatrics resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Clarke-Pounder credits her experience as an MUSC volunteer with helping her develop skills that will make her a more compassionate, effective clinician.
“I think volunteering benefits anyone with even a remote interest in the health care field, because you get to experience so many different aspects of health care,” said Clarke-Pounder. “Volunteering definitely had a huge impact on me in deciding to pursue a career in health care.”
Her education began early. At 15, when most of her friends were preoccupied with makeup and dating, Clarke-Pounder was helping provide assistance and care to patients and families in MUSC’s adult hospital. She eventually shifted to Children’s Hospital NICU, which defined her desired specialty.
As a volunteer, Clarke-Pounder said she was able to discover various aspects of the medical field, but added her interest in pediatric medicine was solidified while working in NICU. “I was able to get a unique experience and a unique perspective on that aspect of pediatrics through my work as a volunteer,” she said. “Through my volunteer experience, I learned how to relate better to children and families, [which now] allows me to approach their care from more than just a medical standpoint.”
While Clarke-Pounder helped others as a volunteer, being a volunteer also has helped her.
“During all my interviews for medical school and residency, my volunteer work was commented on; and I really believe it helped me get to where I am today,” she said. “I used experiences from volunteering while writing my personal statements for both medical school and residency. My volunteer director (John Parler) even wrote a letter of recommendation for me to get into med school.”
Some volunteers are professionals in other areas of health care, not all of them at the bedside.
For 26 years, Donna Harrison, PharmD, has been a pharmacist, including years in retail pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, and home infusion pharmacy. Harrison now enjoys hands-on time teaching pharmacy students in the hospital pharmacy labs.
Donna Harrison, along with therapy dog Jesse, pays a visit to Children's Hospital patient DeSean Brown.
When she’s not teaching, Harrison, along with her trusty therapy dog, Jesse, volunteer to ease patients’ stress, pain and worry. But segueing into the volunteer role came with a degree of internal dissonance.
“I’m used to talking with the patients, asking many detailed questions about their care,” Harrison. “As a volunteer, I cannot do this, and I must limit my conversation to things like their age, their school, their pets, etc. It’s been a tough transition actually.”
After she adjusted, Harrison enjoyed a kind of liberty and lightheartedness that volunteering provided.
“I liked being able to leave the pharmacist mentality at home, and truly enjoy these patients as people,” Harrison said. “It’s a different hat to wear, and although I love caring for patients, I also enjoy entertaining and cheering up people with my dog Jesse.”
She also liked being able to connect with patients as people whom she could help in ways that medications couldn’t.
“I think this has helped me to see the people I work for—students and patients—as people. ... I can appreciate everyone for their individual talents and problems. And although I don’t fill their prescriptions, I can help them in another way that is just as important. I can help them to smile.”
Harrison has been on the other side of the volunteer/patient relationship. And she knows the value firsthand of the quality of care that volunteers help deliver.
“I was a patient recently myself, and I appreciated so much the volunteers who came to visit me,” said Harrison who was an inpatient at a hospital other than MUSC. “And my experiences as a cancer patient help me to relate better to those children and parents dealing with this disease now.”
Jason Kempton describes his interest in becoming a volunteer as “a little out of the box,” because his motivation is rather non-clinical and somewhat pragmatic.
“Initially, I got involved with the MUSC Children’s Hospital, because of the lack of fulfillment I was experiencing in my current position as a sales representative that services MUSC,” said Kempton, who is a volunteer with the Medically Fragile Children’s Program.
Still searching for his “dream job,” Kempton said that volunteering has helped fill a void neglected by his professional life. For now, Kempton’s aspirations and interests stem from his desire to become an executive director for a non-profit organization.
Recently appointed to the Volunteer Advisory Committee, Kempton hopes to become heavily involved in fundraising. “I know that this is not the normal course for volunteers,” Kempton said. “My volunteer experiences have been split between environmental conservation and health care. I am hoping that the experiences and knowledge I am gaining through graduate studies, work experiences, and volunteering will one day enable me to find my idea of a ‘dream job’ with a nonprofit.”
While patients and families have benefited from the care and company of a volunteer, the volunteers themselves have gained and grown personally and professionally. Children’s Hospital and MUSC have been better places, in many ways, because of them.
Headed for medicine
After working at MUSC as a research technician for two years, Bonnie Brooks is taking classes and applying to medical school for entry in fall 2009.
“When I started volunteering at the Children’s Hospital, I was confident in my aspirations to become a physician; however, the experience taught me countless lessons about my future career,” Brooks said. “Interacting with patients one-on-one at the Children’s Hospital gave me the opportunity to observe the medical environment on multiple levels. As a volunteer, I was allowed to support patients and families as a friend while observing the hospital staff’s many responsibilities. Under the supervision of child life specialists, I learned about the complexities of demonstrating compassion and care in a health care environment. Working with patients put a face and a person to diseases that were previously defined to me solely by symptoms and treatments. I learned of their struggles with health care but also heard their praises for the Children’s Hospital. These skills and experiences have given me much to work for as I strive to become a physician.”
Holland Palmgren used her volunteer service as part of qualifying for the National Honors Society. She extended her 20-hour requirement, however, and just completed her second year as a volunteer in the Atrium. She plans to earn a nursing degree through Midlands Technical College in Columbia, and then take what she’s learned to places and people that need her most.
“My passion is in mission work, and I would like to take my nursing degree overseas to be a nurse on the mission field,” she said.
Palmgren also observed a lot while volunteering, learning that children react differently to the adversity of disease. She noticed that some inpatient children “would talk constantly and some just sit there quietly,” she said. “The younger children see the Atrium as an opportunity to give their IV pole to someone who will chase them all over the room and play with every toy they can find.
“Some kids seem unreachable and are silent, but sometimes, all you have to do is put together a puzzle or watch them play a computer game and your silent actions can truly speak louder than words,” Palmgren said.
Kelly Kicklighter currently is enrolled in the occupational therapy program at MUSC. “The most important thing that I learned [while volunteering] was to allow the child to be a child; to let them know that no matter what obstacles they are having to overcome, at this point in their lives it does not have to take away their childhood,” Kicklighter said. “Although I have known for quite sometime that I wanted to become an occupational therapist, being a volunteer definitely helped me to decide that I wanted to work with children. Seeing them laugh and smile makes it all worth it.”
Goals, growth and destiny
Liz Boyle was a social worker working in the Institute of Psychiatry conducting drug and alcohol research. “On my 36th birthday, my husband asked me, ‘What would make a difference in your life this year?’ My answer, Begin to volunteer!’”
Liz Boyle became a nurse after volunteering for Children's Hospital.
Boyle’s inspiration was personal. A nephew born prematurely exposed her to how hospitalization impacted a family. It also directed her to devote her time on the Special Care Unit.
“I really was in awe of the nurses,” she recalled. So one night, she was having a conversation with a couple of notable nurses, who inspired her to later proclaim, “I am going to become a nurse. Now, five pre-requisite courses and one GRE later, I was applying to the MUSC College of Nursing. Four years after that decision to begin to volunteer, I am now a very happy registered nurse working in pediatric cardiology.”
Friday, Sept. 19, 2008