By Jessica Park
Ryan McLachlan, a biology major at the University of Missouri, had been familiar with Boone Hospital Center from growing up in mid-Missouri. He knew volunteering would provide valuable experience for a future career in health care.
April Baum had come from St. Louis to Columbia to attend the University of Missouri, where she double-majors in biology and psychology. She wanted to get involved in the community and was also interested in a career in health care.
When Ryan and April each decided to apply to volunteer at Boone Hospital Center, the timing couldn’t have been better. Martha Johnson, Volunteer Services and Patient Experience Manager, wanted to re-invigorate the hospital’s ambassador volunteer program for college students majoring in health care-related fields, like pre-med, nursing, radiology, physical therapy or biology. Ambassadors commit to volunteer for one semester, for two hours a week.
“Volunteers are an integral part of the Boone team,” Martha says. Volunteers don’t replace the skilled work done by hospital employees, but are here to support staff, patients and visitors. All Boone Hospital Center volunteers are interviewed and complete the same background check and health screens as employees. Volunteers are also expected to uphold the hospital’s standards of conduct. Like Boone employees, volunteers also attend an orientation session before they start their duties.
Ambassadors receive additional orientation, led by Korey Elkin, the hospital’s Patient Care Advocate Coordinator, in the areas where they’ll volunteer, which include some inpatient units, and waiting areas for Surgery, the Emergency Department and the GI Lab.
“I do my best to introduce our Ambassadors to all members of the team – the nurses, the techs, the social workers, the case managers, and the doctors. I try to give our Ambassadors the chance to talk to them and learn how all these disciplines come together to care for a patient,” Korey explains.
April usually volunteers on the hospital’s Neurology-Oncology unit, while Ryan primarily supports the Surgical Specialties team. After checking in with the charge nurse, Ambassadors may restock rooms or supply areas. They may tidy up a waiting room or distribute information.
“I’ve delivered birthday cards to patients and redistributed wheelchairs,” April says. “Anything that needs to be done – I’m here to do it!”
Ryan has also volunteered for the hospital’s Kids on Track community health program, passing out registration packets in May and snow cones in August.
But the Ambassadors’ primary and most important responsibility is to visit with patients and ask if there’s anything they need, like a blanket, pillow, magazine, refilled water pitcher or somebody to talk to.
“A lot of times, patients are looking for a conversation,” April says. “It’s really rewarding that I can be that person
April and Ryan have both enjoyed their experience as Ambassadors. They like being able to connect with patients and to learn from professionals how to assist patients in various situations.
“For anyone studying a health major, I think it’s great to volunteer at a hospital,” Ryan says. “You can learn about all the different job opportunities available and what goes on inside a hospital. You really see what goes into one person’s care.”
April agrees: “I’ve had the chance to talk to professionals and learn more about what they do. For example, I learned from a dietitian that some patients can’t have certain spices.”
Volunteering in a patient care setting also educates Ambassadors on the challenges of working in health care.
“For me, the biggest challenge was realizing some of the realities of health care. You learn that it’s not going to be happy all the time, and sometimes you’ll encounter things you don’t expect. But I think the rewarding aspect outweighs the challenges,” April says.
Martha notes that the Ambassador program doesn’t only benefit college students or busy hospital employees – it also benefits Boone Hospital’s patients.
“Any hospital’s Environmental Services staff, Food Services staff and volunteers are often the first to hear if a patient’s unhappy,” Martha explains. Patients usually feel more comfortable sharing concerns with hospital staff who don’t provide direct patient care. Ambassadors are encouraged to share patient feedback with Martha, Korey, or staff on the unit.
“The biggest job our Ambassadors have is visiting patients,” Martha says. “In school, they’re getting clinical instruction, but what they can’t learn in a classroom is how a patient perceives going through that clinical process. When our Ambassadors become health care professionals, they’ll remember these valuable things they learned here.”
And, hopefully, when our Ambassadors start their health care careers, their positive experience of volunteering at Boone Hospital Center will encourage them to become health care professionals at Boone.
“Our Ambassadors are super-engaged in Boone Hospital Center,” Martha says. “They have authentic, genuine and compassionate connections with our patients. They are essentially changing the face of health care.”
At Boone Hospital Center, we consider everyone on our team to be a caregiver, and our volunteers are no exception. As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our patients, their families, and our staff. We welcome you to join our team of caregivers. We offer opportunities for teens, college students and adults.
Apply online today at boone.org/volunteer.