Teen volunteers gain medical experience
LUTZ - More than 150 high school students are spending summer in the hospital. No cause for alarm. All are part of St. Joseph's Hospitals' Volunteen summer program, offered for the first time at St. Joseph's Hospital-North. "Some of them have an interest in the medical field; some are just testing the waters," said Jacqueline Tolley, a St. Joseph's spokeswoman. All earn community service hours, a requirement for select scholarships."It puts kids in departments throughout the hospital," Tolley said of the program that has operated at St. Joseph's Women's and St. Joseph's Children's hospitals since 1997. BayCare Health System's new facility on Van Dyke Road just west of Dale Mabry Highway opened in February 2010. Applicants must be between the ages of 14 to 18, must have good grades and, accompanied by her or his parents, must be interviewed by hospital personnel. "I got interested because I wanted to do something in health care," said Dondre Oliver, 16, of Wesley Chapel, who soon returns to Wiregrass Ranch High School as a junior. The first-time volunteer has not decided about his future, but he is pondering a career as a surgeon or, perhaps, in the medical examiner field. The Bright Futures Scholarship applicant is eyeing the University of South Florida and out-of-state universities. Oliver's 10-week stint that began in June includes an eight-hour shift every Thursday. The time is split between helping surgical waiting room patients and working in the gift shop as a stock clerk and cashier. His volunteer work has provided opportunities to tour many areas of the hospital, from the intensive care unit to the chapel. He plans to reapply for summer 2013, about which the hospital website will post information in February. Nearby on the same floor, students from different high schools, strangers before their Volunteen stint, have become coworkers — and friends. Lily Trujillo, who will return to Wesley Chapel High as a sophomore, works two eight-hour days a week, at the information desk and in PPT, hospital lingo for pre-procedure testing. She, too, is eyeing a Bright Futures Scholarship. "They require 100 hours by your senior year, but I'm planning on doing lot more," said the 15-year-old, who wants to be a veterinarian. She didn't know the Volunteens program was launched at St. Joseph's-North until informed by her mother, Elisha, an emergency room nurse there. "I go in with her if she's working, which is usually six o'clock in the morning; I'm fine with it," Trujillo said. On a recent day, Trujillo and fellow volunteer Lieska Ruiz are sharing PPT duties, compiling information packets to be distributed to patients, advising them of privacy rights, available programs like smoking-cessation and other hospital information. Ruiz, who will be a junior at Steinbrenner High, works three eight-hour days, dividing time between the front desk, pre-procedure testing, the recovery area and gift shop. The 16-year-old also rides to the hospital with her mother, Maria, who works in the emergency room as a financial assistance specialist. Recovery room duty is the teen's favorite so far, "Because you see all the patients and the action going on there," she said. "I want to go into the medical field, as an E.R. doctor or as a psychobiologist," testing human reaction to drugs being readied for the market, a field she learned of through her advance-placement psychology class. The volunteers' moms knew each other through work, but the teens met only through their hospital gig. They sometimes work the same assignments and dine together in the hospital cafeteria, where complimentary lunch is a perk for Volunteens. Both teens said they will volunteer at St. Joseph's next summer. "We've met so many nice people here. I think it's a really good experience," Ruiz said.
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