After three years of volunteering at Valley Hospital and Medical Center, Julie Rothfus is surer than ever.
The medical field is her future.
“This right here is my favorite part,” Rothfus says, as she walks into the emergency room. “Being all nervous at the start, not knowing what’s going to happen.”
A doctor is checking X-rays, the nursing staff is catching its breath after a non-stop morning. The first request hits Rothfus as soon as she walks through the swinging doors.
“Hi. Can you do me a favor? Can you just turn the TV off for me?” asks Donna Ziegler, ER secretary. It’s a simple task, but Ziegler’s high heels aren’t suited to climbing up on a chair.
Next, Rothfus, a 17-year-old senior-to-be at University High School, swings into her four-hour shift with routine chores: checking supplies of linens in the ER bays, checking to see what paperwork she can help with. A stack three phonebooks tall is waiting for her.
The Junior Volunteer program this summer at Valley Hospital is giving about 90 teenagers a taste of medical careers, a chance to learn about being a good employee, and the opportunity to learn that they can help out the hospital team.
While not formally organized as such, this program is a prime example of the growing school-to-work movement, says Claudia Leppert, outgoing director of vocational-technical education at West Valley High School.
Ann Hanson, coordinator of the program, is half surrogate mother to the teens, half hawkeyed employer - albeit there’s no payroll.
Each volunteer job comes with a job description, clear expectations and an atmosphere that duplicates a real job in many ways.
Teens who can’t get to their shift are responsible for finding a substitute. Arriving on time and other “good employee” traits are encouraged.
Hanson is determined to see that each student has a good experience volunteering. Volumes of support from the hospital’s administration make that possible, she says. Hanson helps the volunteers find a department where they feel challenged but comfortable. Nine departments in the hospital are in the program, from the ER, to the front desk, to the surgical floor. Some of the teens are easy to place. Rothfus, for instance, hasn’t budged out of ER her entire time.
“A good part of my job is paperwork,” Hanson says, documenting students’ participation for scholarships, community service requirements and so on.
The weekly program is open to 14- to 18-year-olds. The bulk of the students who enter the program stay with it all through their high school years. Roughly half of those who “graduate” from the program say they’ll pursue a medical career.
Swaniee Mastros, 19, is off to pharmacy school at Washington State University this fall. She has logged roughly 1,800 hours over several years as a hospital volunteer.
Bryan Krislock, a ninth-grader at Evergreen Junior High who is in his first summer as a volunteer, works in the pharmacy. He hopes to make medicine his career.
Ditto Pat Rusca, a graduate of Gonzaga Prep. He’s off to Creighton University this fall and hopes to continue on through medical school there. Rusca tells of being the one who always helped younger kids weather their cuts and scrapes.
Hanson, in turn, tells of her ability, honed over the years, to know which kids will reach their dreams, who’ll be a doctor, who’ll be an attorney: “Dr. Rusca. We’ll be waiting for you,” she tells him.
Rothfus hopes for a career in neonatal nursing or pediatric nursing.
“I feel really privileged to volunteer here,” Rothfus says. She tells of her boyfriend who wants to go into business, but has found nowhere near as satisfying a volunteer program to help him on his way.
This program succeeds, Hanson says, because it’s a two-way street. Both the hospital and the teens win.
Back in the ER, Ziegler says she and other staffers count on the volunteers, especially during busy days.
“Some days, they are an unbelievable source of help,” says Ziegler.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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