July 09, 2013

Teens get a firsthand look at healthcare careers

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There are 110 teenagers in scrubs around the University of Alabama at Birmingham this summer. They are volunteers, working in just about every area of the UAB Health System.

“They volunteer throughout the hospital, UAB Highlands, Callahan Eye Hospital and the Kirklin Clinic,” said Carolyn Matthews, volunteer coordinator for UAB Guest Services. “Our volunteers help lighten the load for our employees to focus even more on patient- and family-centered care.”

Volunteers are on duty for four weeks, answering the phones, handling paperwork, filling supply orders and sometimes a bit more.

“They may get to watch a bedside procedure or have the opportunity to shadow a nurse or physician, which is really helpful for our teens who are interested in the medical field,” said Matthews.

Many are considering a career in health care, and volunteering gives them a taste of what to expect.

“When I first volunteered, I was thinking I’d like to be a doctor or a nurse; I thought those were the only options,” said second-year volunteer Leah Bostany, who will attend Auburn University in the fall. “After being in the setting and seeing all of the different members of the team, I’m thinking about becoming a Registered Nurse First Assist or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. Those were two options that I didn’t know existed before.”

Michael Liptrot, a junior at the Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School, wants to be a neurosurgeon.

“My first year, I volunteered in the radiology department with the MRI machine,” he said. “My second year, I worked in the echocardiography lab, basically ultrasound of the heart. I am in surgical pathology this year. I have been able to meet and talk with a lot of physicians.”

First-year volunteer Steven Breaux, a senior at Spain Park High School, also plans to be a physician.

“I just wanted to see what everyday life would be for a doctor and for other people working with doctors,” he said.

For second-year volunteer Devin Sun, a senior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, medicine is the family business.

“My sister is in medical school at UAB, and both of my parents work at UAB,” said Sun. “Hopefully, I’ll be working at UAB in a few years.”

Assistant professor of nursing Darnell Williams, DNP, followed that route, serving as a teen volunteer when the program started in the early 1990s.

“My mom is a nurse, too, and she encouraged me to volunteer at the hospital to see if that was truly what I wanted to do,” said Williams. “It definitely solidified my rationale for why I wanted to be a nurse, seeing the compassion that nurses had while taking care of the patients.”

Williams went to nursing school at UAB, worked as an RN at UAB Hospital and eventually earned her doctorate in nursing practice. She now teaches on the faculty of the UAB School of Nursing. Her experiences as a teen volunteer helped prepare her for the academic rigors of school.

“I definitely was able to draw from the experiences that I had as a volunteer, seeing the nurses and the whole health care team working together to help the patient,” she said. “I knew that they had to go through similar academic challenges to get to where they were. So that really did help me to know that they were able to do it, and I could do the same.”

Matthews said one lesson that the volunteers learn is that a hospital is more than just physicians and nurses.

“It takes a team of people: the unit secretary, the patient care tech, environmental services, food and nutrition services and so on,” she said. “It takes everyone, including administration, to make the hospital run efficiently.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities with the UAB Health System, go towww.uabmedicine.org/volunteer or call 205-934-4270.