Volunteering @ the VA Medical Center

Whew! I’ve been trying to update forever. I have so many back-posts, but I figured I finish writing this one since it’s most relevant to today since I surrendered my volunteering badge from the VA Medical Center in Philly.

Last October, I started volunteering at one of the units at the VA medical center after trying to apply around for different hospitals in Philly. The staff was super responsive, efficient, and overall superbly nice. After about a year here signed up and only 50 hours completed, I’ve learned a few things from my experience there.

I usually recommend this place to Philly students in search for clinical/patient contact hours because I really enjoyed the volunteer department, plus the med center has a nice demeanor overall and not grossly gigantic & scary. However, believe it or not, this has not been my most memorable or favorite volunteer experience. I hit a few difficulties being introduced to my assigned departments (like on the floor training), getting swipe access, and getting my hours done and my schedule. So while being a volunteer at VA, I honestly wasn’t particularly too happy (I wasn’t really sad either. Just kinda meh), but looking back I realize it provided me a pretty good view into the hospital life.

Firstly, I learned quickly that while hospitals can have extreme emergencies, there is a lot of moments when not a lot of things are going on (not even routine things to do). Especially when I started working weekends, nothing particularly exciting happened. However, because of this, I got “bored” and actively engaged in conversation with all the patients I came in contact with. As I have mentioned before, I am a very shy person, but this experience has helped shave off a bit of that reserved nature, like The Academy of Natural Sciences.

Next, I think my admiration for nurses grew more so in the VA than any other hospital experience. These people literally run the unit themselves. I was able to observe quite a few times how doctors and nurses interact and communicate with one another while in Emergency Dept. I really think the doctors and nurses got a long well during the times I was there; I saw a mutual respect for one another.

One of my favorite quotes from a nurse who worked a shift with me said was: “My bosses are not doctors. I am a nurse, and I work for nurses.” She was talking in regards to although she appreciates the respect from doctors, respect and support from fellow nurses and her nurse manager was just important.

Of course on my very last day of volunteering was the most eventful day ever. Naomi and I had overlapped shifts by a bit. I was able to see a CAT scan, and it was finally was explained to me as the procedure took place. I also saw how the tech and nurse used physics to explain how an IV “blew out.” I met a patient with an incredible drug abuse history, an electronic voice, and was still super nice despite the uncomfortable conditions he was in.

And during my final hour, out of the corner of my eye, a doctor had forgotten to close the curtains of the patient’s room. First hand I got to observe the doc cut into the patient’s stomach and drain the effected region. As defined by WebMD, a hematoma is an area where blood collects under the skin, outside of its usual location: the blood vessels.

At first, I thought the doctor was making a tiny incision with a scalpel, but after about 5 minutes, he had cut an opening large enough to stuff a few of his gloved fingers and wads of gauze to help remove the misguided collections of blood. It might have been one of the more minor procedures to observe while in an Emergency Dept., but for me, it was amazing and really reignited/revisited/re-realized my initial love for the dream hospital career.

Most importantly, this experience taught me that I don’t have to LOVE each activity that I sign up for. For one reason or another, volunteering at the VA didn’t click with me, and it ended up not becoming a long-standing extracurricular activity. It was no one’s fault, and I shouldn’t be sad about it; this is just the truth. I used to beat myself up a lot for not being enthusiastic and excited going in every shift. And this devastated me because all my life all I wanted to do is work in a hospital, so the idea of not being excited volunteering at one was  such a foreign concept. The expected was that I would love volunteering at the VA as much as I loved volunteering at Winthrop University Hospital (the greatest non-personal/family hospital influence I’ve had). I was expecting large, life changing impacts and observances from VA, which I thought would shape my opinion of the hospital work setting, but received more subtle lessons that were more applicable to how my outlook on life is and in general more valuable in retrospect.

So while I have resigned from here, I am on the search yet again for another hospital experience to better educate myself in how a life could be like working in such a setting.

My most memorable moment here was actually with Naomi during our Emergency Dept. training for the brand new stretchers being implemented. They were semi-automatic machines with a mind of their own! At first, they were difficult to steer and guide, but in the wise words of Naomi, you had to treat driving these things like playing “Mario Kart.” And like any video game, practice makes perfect. It felt really nice being in a room full of volunteers like myself, mostly students wanting to devote time to patients & help. Also, it was cool learning about new technologies being introduced in a hospital setting.

(My fave MarioKart character is Toad >:D)

So yet another experience to add to my metaphorical scrapbook of life experiences. In all, I’m happy things worked out the way they did because as usual, things are not quite as straightforward as they seem!

(from my cousin’s Facebook!)


One comment on “Volunteering @ the VA Medical Center

  1. improperintegirl says:

    sorry to hear you didn’t have the most awesome time at the philly VA. When my grandfather was living at the VA on long island, I remember all of the nurses being absolutely *wonderful* .. or at least they all loved my grandfather because he was constantly cracking jokes even if he wasn’t quite so sure of where he was. And at the nearby VA hospital there I also remember the nurses being awesome when my uncle needed major lung surgery. But seriously, they were so damn organized compared to a normal hospital and seemed way more caring.

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