Growing up, I always wanted to help people. Watching television shows like E.R. and Greys Anatomy, I was hooked. The excitement and drama of hospitals drew me in. I even played hospital with my friends and dolls, thrilled to be the doctor to save them. I have always loved the idea of helping people with their most basic human needs for health and safety. I knew I wanted to become a doctor. Therefore, when it came time to create a project that would help me with my future, it was clear I should volunteer in a hospital. My goal for volunteering in a medical office was to gain experience working with doctors, nurses, staff, and patients. Most of all, I hoped this experience would help me to see if I could fit into the realities of this environment (which I knew were far from the hospitals I grew up watching on TV). I know that if I’m going to attend at least 8 years of college after high school, it needs to be in a field where I know I belong.
I started my project by learning about the hospital I know best, the one in my community, Highline Medical Center. Becoming a volunteer in a hospital is much more complex than many may think. There is a great deal of paperwork and screening just to be considered for a certified volunteering spot. The first step I took after completing the paperwork was taking a four-hour class on hospital safety, security and standards. After that, I was given a thorough tour of the hospital. Finally, I was assigned to be the front desk coordinator in the Day Surgery Center. My mentor was Sarah Thompson, the lead nurse in the department. Ms. Thompson has bee a CRN for 13 years and has been in the Day Surgery Center for eight of those years. I worked every Friday afternoon in the summer and fall from 1-4pm, completing over 50 hours of volunteer work. The job entailed cleaning instruments and prepping them for surgery, cleaning beds, filing papers, organizing charts, opening and sorting mail, how to professionally answer phones, how to organize and file information, how to create a new medical chart, how to sterilize the rooms after surgery, as well as how and when to check in with patients.
In this job so many things that I didn’t know before. Above all, I learned that a medical career involved a lot of different skill sets. I learned strong customer service, how to perform administrative tasks, and how to work professionally alongside busy nurses and doctors. Most of all, I am grateful I had the opportunity to work first hand with medical professionals and see what their daily life is like (busy). I also created a strong with the nurses. I was surprised at how patient and kind they were to me. I also appreciate all the learning I did. In a short time, I learned so many different things. Nurse Thompson really wanted me to experience all the different aspects of the job. All of those skills help me to understand all aspects of how a medical office runs well, which will make me a better physician one day. I am proud of myself for quickly assimilating into the fast paced environment. Most of all, I was proud that I got a chance to help people. One time a woman came in confused and flustered. She had a hard time communicating with us what she needed. I was able to use my Spanish to figure out that she was in the wrong building and I walked her to the medical center next door where her husband had an appointment. She was so grateful to just have those few minutes of help. Because medicine can be so intimidating for so many people, it was nice to have the chance to make a scary experience a little less terrifying for someone.
One thing I struggled with in my senior project was only going in once a week for a few hours. While I exceeded the 10 hours b a lot, I still feel like I wish I had more time there. I still have a lot to learn. While my schedule gave me a perspective of what it’s like to be in a medical office over time, I wish I could have seen what an average week looks like. The nurses mentioned that the days I came in (Friday afternoons) were often slow, so I would have liked to see a busier day. I also wish I would have had a chance to try out a different area of the hospital (like the ER) just to get a sense of how doctors and nurses in each area work differently. If I had started my project in the spring of my junior year, I might have had time to complete two volunteering cycles.
Completing this senior project has confirmed for me that I do want to pursue medicine. And while the experience I had was nothing like the stories I saw of hospitals on TV as a child, it was a powerful experience. Caring for others’ is perhaps one of the most important jobs we have and I feel compelled to help people be healthy. I plan to attend a four-year university next year (hopefully University of San Francisco) and afterward attend a medical school. I still am not sure which type of medicine I want to pursue, but I’m hoping to have more volunteer experiences during my undergraduate years that will help me figure this out.
The advice I would give to next year’s seniors is to start thinking about what they would like to do now (junior year). It takes time and dedication to complete a meaningful project, and needs to be done on schedule. I would tell them to do their project on something they actually enjoy, because I loved working where I did. For me it was truly a life changing experience.