Youth Volunteer Program: Where the Hospital Becomes the Classroom
Judy Lieberman, director of Volunteer Services at Taylor Hospital, had the vision to provide high school and college students with a genuine opportunity to learn about future careers in healthcare combined with a community leadership experience.
In the past, approximately 125 students would sign up for summer volunteer activities at Taylor, but within two or three weeks, nearly 50 percent of them dropped out. Lieberman realized that new, more stimulating ideas had to be put into practice in order to provide a solution to this problem.
To achieve this goal, staff members were invited to “rethink” potential volunteer opportunities and to develop volunteer job descriptions in the hospital with the idea of engaging the students in future careers in healthcare. A “Pre-Med” track was established with the help of the Human Resources department and in conjunction with the Delaware County Technical School and local high schools. This program is for students that are enrolled in college and are interested in pursuing a career in any field that is related to healthcare. These students shadow physicians and other healthcare professionals. If a student expresses a specific desire to investigate a field of interest, opportunities are then tailored to meet their goals.
Lieberman also partnered with the “Spark the Wave” Foundation, which is based out of Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Their mission is to work with area youth to develop leadership skills and a passion for community service. This program includes communication exercises, group dynamics, problem-solving skills, event planning and program management.
The outcome of this more creative approach was a more interesting and career-focused volunteer opportunity for the students and a rising level of interest among volunteers. “If you can give the student some responsibilities and ownership, the more motivated the student becomes,” Lieberman says. “Involving students in a more interesting and rigorous summer experience provides a unique opportunity to expose the students to careers in medicine and allied health.”
Since starting the program, the student dropout rate has decreased from nearly 50 percent to only 5 percent, and students’ hours of program participation has increased by 20 percent. The program has generated interest from schools and students in a broader area, including two neighboring states.
Taylor Hospital is very committed to working with area youth students in many different focuses all year long, whether is it in the Medical Career programs or students with disabilities. “Our students become our ambassadors,” Lieberman says. “They talk up volunteering in their classes and many of them are surprised how much they enjoyed their experience. I have many students who volunteer their entire high school career and return for their college requirements. They feel like they are at home here, and much of that has to do with the relationships they have built with the hospital staff as well as the staff in the volunteer office.”
She adds, “What excites me about this award is that it was a blind submission. The reviewers did not know me or know our program personally; so therefore there was no bias. The program was truly honored by its merits,” Lieberman says. “I may implement most of the programs, but this award speaks to the dedication of our staff members and for our hospital community. They are the ones who will mentor many of the students.”