Funding Source: Primary Care Pre-Medical Internships
Hi, all! My name is Juliet Young, and I am a sophomore. This summer, supported by the Primary-Care Internship fund, I spent several weeks volunteering at Yale-New Haven Hospital. When searching for volunteer opportunities, I learned that many healthcare establishments offer programs that enable community members and high school, college, and pre-med students to get involved. After reading about the college volunteer program at Yale Hospital, I contacted the hospital’s volunteer office to apply. Before I began volunteering, I participated in an interview and went through several orientations and trainings. While Yale had an extensive application process, the experience was well worth it!
In the hospital, I volunteered on a general medicine unit. My job primarily consisted of completing small tasks for nurses and talking with patients. During my training, I learned my role was very independent, so I could gain as much from my experience as I put into it. Throughout my volunteering, I had many opportunities to learn from nurses and PCAs (Patient Care Associates). All staff on my floor were happy to answer my questions, and some of the PCA’s even allowed me to watch them take vitals, glucose sugar tests, and input patient data into the electronic healthcare system.
In terms of tasks, every shift I folded yellow PPE gowns that hospital staff could wear when entering patient rooms. The gown supply diminished very quickly, so the staff were grateful when I restocked them. Beyond folding gowns, I often retrieved water or snacks for patients and cleared their food trays when they finished eating. I additionally helped hospital staff in more meaningful ways. For instance, a chaplain asked me to act as a witness for a patient filling out DNR paperwork. The chaplain told me to observe the patient, so I could testify that she was mentally stable when she filled out her forms, giving her family power to make decisions about her medical care. It was an emotional experience as the patient and her family discussed how the end of her life might be handled. I felt fortunate for the opportunity to learn more about the role of a chaplain in a hospital and to have been involved in such an intimate moment.
Surrounded by various hospital staff, I learned about caring for patients and what healthcare in a busy hospital looks like. Before I volunteered, I was unclear about the roles of nurses, PCA’s, and doctors in patient care. I learned that PCA’s perform basic care and tests but are not as well informed about the patient’s medical problems. They help patients eat, go to the bathroom, and adjust their positioning in bed, providing critical support to ensure patients are comfortable and their condition is well-monitored. While RN’s perform similar acts to PCAs, they are better informed on why the patient is in the hospital, and they are responsible for administering medications to the patient. I found that RN’s and PCA’s seem to have the deepest connections with patients, and their work is entirely centered around care.
Meanwhile, the role of a doctor in patient care is more science-based. While doctors can perform the same work as PCA’s and RN’s, they spend much less time with patients. They have rounds in the mornings and afternoons to check the status of their patients’ conditions. What I found very intriguing about doctors is they have SO MUCH knowledge about their patient’s medical problems and possible treatment options. They have to read and research various conditions, acting as detectives to determine a diagnosis that best aligns with their patient’s symptoms and story. From there, the doctors form a treatment plan that other hospital staff help to carry out. I am very interested in the science behind doctors’ medical practices and treatment plans. Volunteering has helped me to realize that if I decide to enter a career in healthcare, I would likely try to become a doctor or PA because I would enjoy forming treatment plans and deeply educating myself to help patients improve their health.
While I learned about the everyday work of hospital staff, some of my most valuable interactions occurred with patients. I talked to many patients, all with different needs, ailments, and timelines for remaining in the hospital. For instance, I spoke with some who were discharged in a matter of hours, while others (including one woman who I spoke to at almost every shift), had terminal illnesses and were preparing to move to local hospices. Outside of talking with patients, I also watched TV with them and helped them arrange their rooms.
I believe my conversations and physical presence in patient rooms was helpful because nearly all patients I visited seemed glad for my company. After only a couple shifts, I realized that the patients I spoke with were impacting me just as much (and more) than my support was benefiting them. I loved talking to patients because it felt very natural: I would ask them about their interests, how they were, and what I could do to improve their hospital experiences. Some of them were very humorous, while others were in low spirits. Through my volunteering, I’ve been intrigued by the humanity and vulnerability the patients showed. By engaging with patients, I learned a significant amount about how to care for and communicate with others, especially those in fragile conditions.
Overall, I have learned SO MUCH from volunteering at Yale-New Haven Hospital and am excited to have more healthcare experiences in the future. I hope to continue pushing my comfort zone, interacting with more patients and healthcare professionals, and learning about myself and my career goals.