When I told my friends that I was going to sign up to volunteer at the local hospital, they told me that it would be really boring and a waste of time. Obviously, I ignored them and decided to volunteer anyway. I knew that even though what I would be doing was menial labor, my work would have an impact somehow. Plus, I always felt that there was something to learn.
Today one of the nurses told me how much she appreciates the volunteers. The days or shifts when there are no volunteers, the nurses have to do this work: making beds, refilling the refrigerator, etc. As the nurse said, these sorts of tasks can be frustrating when you worked so hard to get your college degree and pass licensing exams. She wasn’t ungrateful to have her job, and understands that these tasks are necessary, but what she said resonated with me.
When I was working in the fast food industry, I was often embarrassed. Although I hadn’t finished college at the time I was working, (still am yet to graduate, but will soon!) many of my friends had “cooler” jobs working in offices or doing internships with hot local companies. When I was donning a uniform and baseball cap, my friends were shopping for slacks and button-downs. At times I felt not that I should have been working somewhere else because I was “better” than my co-workers, but that my educational experience should have enabled me to get a job that allowed me to use my acquired skills. I was happy to have a job and befriended my co-workers, but like the nurse at the Hospital, at times I felt frustrated.
The Hospital, as I’ve mentioned before, is a for-profit hospital, and in the seemingly unending recession, cost-cutting is all the rage. When I think about the high rates of unemployment nationwide, I can’t help but feel that businesses could do something to alleviate it. If the Hospital hired a staff to do the tasks that I do, the nurses could better focus on the patients, and someone in need could have a job. But at the same time, is it worth spending the extra money for a housekeeping staff when the nurses could just as well do the job? Any corporation would say, no.
The Hospital is beautifully functioning to outsiders, but just as in any business the bureaucracy exists. Everyone’s jobs are as generalized as possible; thus nurses jobs extend to some housekeeping roles. This could be working under the guise of “if you are somewhat involved in the tasks of other departments the company can avoid vertical silos,” but likely the economic recession would motivate a company to make this decision. Generalization of employees’ roles sounds bad, but the Hospital delivers excellent treatment and is well ranked across numerous specialties.
When I volunteer Friday mornings, another volunteer comes in about an hour after me. As I mentioned last week, my new goal is to network more (if possible) to find more tasks to do. Today we had to retrieve some food for the stock room (the nurses give snacks to post-ops). So, we descended into the belly of the hospital, which is not labeled very well. Perhaps to deter wandering hospital visitors.
We have a hospital cafeteria, of course. I never put much thought into it, but having worked in the food industry I assumed that chefs made executive decisions. Despite my human nutrition course, I never considered the involvement of registered dietitians in patient care. RDs work in the cafeteria making decisions regarding the foods the patients consume and overseeing the products received into the hospital for use in the cafeteria and in other departments. In the surgery department in which I volunteer, the nurses have to keep track of the food and drink inventory they have and make requests for more supplies. These orders are approved by the food department and are usually sent upstairs to the department. All in all, I learned that (a) I cannot escape from supply chain management and (b) health care profession jobs extend far beyond diagnosis and treatment into management.
I have been debating if I should start volunteering in the emergency room (ER) department at the Hospital. I talked to my fellow volunteer and he told me that he had just started volunteering there. Apparently we have a padded room for the particularly disgruntled patient (or those with mental illness); should a situation arise, the person out of control would be left in the padded room to cool down for a while. I was told that as a volunteer in the ER you may meet a lot of angry people who are either affected by their own or a family member’s/friend’s trauma or irritated by the wait or quality of service. I can see as a health care professional that the ER could possibly be exciting, bringing a variety of cases. But as a volunteer whose main service is to make the ER comfortable for the patients, I imagine volunteering in the ER would invoke my not-so-fond memories of angry fast food customers. I don’t think it is for me.
If you are debating volunteering in a hospital, I certainly recommend it! Every week I learn something new about both medicine and the careers of health care professionals.