The Mechanics of Clinical Volunteering at Pitt

by Sarah Bonaffini

Amid the refilling of water pitchers, incessant calls for ice chips and stacks of patient information to be alphabetized, there are valuable lessons to be learned from volunteering. But first, consider why you should volunteer at all.

The American Medical College Application Service states volunteering is an optional but recommended extracurricular experience: What does that mean? Simply stated, in order to be a successful healthcare career candidate, you should understand why you want to be a doctor, why you are passionate about the field and why you want to begin your lifelong relationship with medicine.

Many people decide to volunteer to answer these questions and to make an informed and confident decision about entering health care. Volunteering is a rewarding taste of the medical field, and a way to figure out if it is really for you.

In college, learning what you don’t like is just as important as learning what you do. Perhaps during the volunteering process you’ll find you do not enjoy working with patients; however, you really enjoy your rigorous science coursework. This realization will allow you to explore other options such as research or hospital administration.

Most importantly, volunteering will help show you if you are going into medicine for the right reasons. Does taking vitals give you a rush? After a long four-hour shift, do you feel at ease that you have found your niche? Does learning the diagnosis get you excited? Maybe you’ll do some soul searching and find medicine is not for you. Realizing your passion early is essential.

Despite having to suffer through the loud buzz of helicopters and ambulances, living on a campus surrounded by so many hospitals gives you varied choices in volunteering experiences. You have many departments to choose from, so choose something that you are interested in!

The most utilized hospital by Pitt volunteers, primarily because of its proximity, is UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.  After a short application, letters of recommendation and a TB test, you’ll find yourself in the volunteer coordinator's office with a wide range of volunteering choices. If answering phones is your skill, you can become the receptionist you have always wanted to be. If you love brains you can volunteer in the neurology department, or if surgery excites you volunteer in the surgery wing. You get to enjoy the field you want, and even get to wear the sexy red volunteering jacket.

Magee Women’s Hospital of UPMC is also a popular choice for Pitt students. Magee is a little homier than Presby and is different from other volunteer facilities because of its emphasis on women’s health. If you love babies and mothers, think about volunteering here. Magee also tends to be a bit more flexible with time slots than UPMC Presbyterian because it is not as inundated with students.

However, don’t be fooled by the feminine atmosphere in Magee’s lobby. The hospital boasts many other departments that do not focus solely on women’s health, such as the cancer center and surgery department. Boys, do not be intimidated about volunteering here — male volunteers are welcome. Plus, you get to be surrounded by pregnant women all day.

An alternative to helping in a hospital is volunteering at Family House. Family House is different from other volunteer facilities as it is an organization that supports local hospitals. It provides an affordable place to stay for patients receiving treatment and their families. Gerri Giles, the volunteer coordinator for Family House, explained that “it is good to see the other side of medicine — wellness and getting better. The hospitals take care of the physical aspect, and we take care of the mental aspect by providing a home away from home.”

Family House gives you a different perspective than the hospitals, because you are able to focus on the person solely from a humanistic view. You can appreciate the aftermath of decisions made in the hospital—decisions that you may eventually make as a professional.

If none of these options strike your fancy, consider volunteering with one of Pitt’s volunteer organizations. Check out the volunteering cove in the William Pitt Union across from the cafeteria. You will find information about the many volunteer organizations on campus.

If you are positive medicine is what you want to do, volunteer to reaffirm. If you are not sure, volunteer to decide. It will give you the necessary confidence in your career choice. Gain information, but equally, experience about whatever field you decide to pursue. Getting into professional school is a long journey and requires time, energy and sacrifice. Volunteering can provide you the motivation and inspiration to study that extra hour for your biology test or set up camp in the library on a thirsty Thursday.