Hospital volunteer program gives students dose of the real world

Many life lessons are learned at school.

But you also can learn something about life in a place sometimes associated with death: the hospital.

Nicole Collymore, a junior at Spring Valley High School who's also a hospital volunteer, learned how to look at life with more optimism just from playing a board game with a patient.

"He just had such a good attitude even though he had this really serious disease," says Collymore, 17, who works in the Physical Therapy Outpatient Department of Summerlin Hospital Medical Center and is an aspiring anesthesiologist.

Shara Baxter, a 16-year-old junior from Spring Valley, also volunteers at Summerlin Hospital. She works in the Outpatient Diabetes Treatment Center. Her day is spent observing diabetic patients and inputting patient information into the computer database.

"I like to help," she says. "I like being a part of something. I've always wanted to be a doctor, but I never knew what a doctor's day was like. I never knew what it was they did. Then I started volunteering here and I saw what it was like to actually work as a doctor."

Not all students volunteer at the hospital for medical experience, however.

Some, like Mohith Manoharan, a 17-year-old senior at Advanced Technologies Academy, work in the warehouse as part of the Central Supply Department, volunteering for school credit.

"I move heavy boxes around all day so the job is kind of hard," Manoharan says.

Volunteering can give teens insight into the working world, says Irma Laudermilch, director of volunteer services at Summerlin Hospital. She manages a department of 218 volunteers, 30 of which are teenagers ages 15 to 18.

"I love my job because I get to meet people from all age groups and walks of life," she says. "The volunteer program is great because it gives students a chance to work in the medical field and it's a good exposure to the real world."

Laudermilch receives 25 to 30 teenager volunteer applications a month.

"It's like hiring an employee," she says. "The more dedicated, passionate and experienced you are, the more chances you have of me selecting you as a volunteer."

To become a volunteer, teens first should contact the hospital where they would like to work and see whether there's a volunteer program. Then an application must be submitted, sometimes followed by an interview. Some hospitals also might require counselor recommendations.

Once chosen, volunteers must be tested for tuberculosis and go through orientation before receiving their uniform and their schedule with their assigned department, including days and times they are to work.

"You have to want to do it," Collymore says. "You can't just do it because you want school credit or community service. You have to think it's worthwhile coming down here every week and giving your time at this hospital."