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Helping Hands: Junior Volunteers Give Back

UVA Health System Junior Volunteers Micaela Miller and Adam Ladd adjust a wheelchair outside the Emergency Department.
UVA Health System Junior Volunteers Micaela Miller and Adam Ladd adjust a wheelchair outside the Emergency Department.

Summer vacation. If you’re a teen, it’s a time to relax, forget about school and hang out with your friends, maybe get a job.

But for 56 local teens, it’s also a chance to make a difference by volunteering at UVA Health System.

The teens in our Junior Volunteer program help things run more smoothly at the Medical Center by:

  • Working in the gift shop and manning the mobile shopping cart
  • Delivering supplies and instruments to our operating rooms
  • Performing administrative tasks in the emergency room, the Outpatient Surgery Clinic and other locations
  • Assisting lost visitors and patients
  • Helping out at the Malcolm Cole Child Care Center, which provides care to children of hospital employees
  • And much more

“It’s a huge difference when they’re here,” says volunteer coordinator Maureen Oswald. Many areas will put aside jobs just for the volunteers, who clocked about 5,000 hours at UVA this summer. “It takes a little bit of energy on the staff side, but the payoff is well worth it,” Oswald says.

The volunteers come from 16 regional high schools. Each teen commits to 50 hours of volunteer service for the summer, but quite a few put in many more hours.

One key task the Junior Volunteers helped with during their 8-week stint this summer will benefit patient care for the long run, says Oswald. The teens took apart paper patient medical records, removing staples and paper clips, so the records can be scanned into UVA’s new electronic medical record system. It’s a tedious but necessary task.

There’s also plenty of opportunity for more interesting assignments that involve learning how a hospital operates.

Adam Ladd, 16, of Charlottesville, spent the summer stocking shelves in the emergency room and transporting surgical supply carts to the operating rooms. “I like it, especially when a tech says, ‘Your speed just saved this person’s life.’ That’s really cool,” he says.

“I volunteered to get a feel for what it’s like in the real world,” says Melissa Gutierrez-Sanchez, 17, of Charlottesville. She wants to be a child psychologist and working at Malcolm Cole was a learning experience for her. She didn’t just play with the children; she also learned how to communicate with them using developmentally appropriate language.

Dawn Shields, 16, who hopes to be a doctor some day, spent part of her summer playing with the children at Malcolm Cole and working at the new Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center, where she handed out crossword and Sudoku puzzles and talked to patients waiting for infusion treatment.

“It’s really nice,” says Shields, who also volunteers on her winter and spring breaks. “It makes me want to be a doctor even more. It’s so much fun helping people and seeing that they really appreciate what you’re doing. I like the feeling it gives me to help someone, whether it’s a patient or a staff member.”

Ladd, who wants to be an emergency room doctor, enjoys taking lost visitors where they need to go. “It’s a small thing, but it’s really key,” he says.

Admission to the Junior Volunteer Program is competitive, says volunteer coordinator Oswald. Teens submit a seven-page application form, letters of reference and an essay question. There’s also an interview. This year, 85 applied and many had to be turned away.

Micaela Miller, 16, Earlysville, also wants to work in the emergency room as a nurse. She got a first-hand look at UVA’s Emergency Department this summer when she helped out putting together patient folders and looking over rescue squad papers. She saw the variety of cases that emergency room staff see on a daily basis.

“I want to work in an emergency room because I go off of adrenaline,” says Miller, who volunteered over 100 hours this summer. “You never know what kind of stuff will come in.”

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