Sixteen-year-old Daniel Alderson walks through the emergency room at Wesley Medical Center, eyeing a couple on the bench as they wait outside a hospital room.
“If you need anything, let me know,” Alderson said to them in passing.
Alderson is one of 119 young volunteers in Wesley’s Volunteen program, transporting patients in their wheelchairs, cleaning rooms and checking vitals on patients.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I always thought doctors were the coolest thing around,” said Alderson, who will be a junior at Heights High School this fall. “So I decided this would be a good way for me to decide what department I wanted to be in.”
High school students enter the program to learn about the operations of a hospital and how to interact with patients, said Carol Stricker, Wesley’s guest services and communication manager. Early on, the volunteers work in guest services, delivering mail, flowers and assisting visitors.
“It allows them the opportunity to get job skills and people skills,” Stricker said. “A lot of them are really shy. When you’re in high school it’s hard to get those skills.”
More experienced volunteers work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, pediatrics and lactation departments. Sarah Schreiber, 16, works once a week in the NICU where volunteers sort through baby toys and help parents fill out paperwork.
“I see certain parents that come back every week … and the baby’s been in there for a long time,” said Schreiber, a junior at Kapaun Mount Carmel High School. “It’s just awesome to see how much devotion they have as parents.”
In the emergency room, Alderson said the children affect him the most. Seeing broken limbs and parents in deep grief is sometimes difficult for a 16-year-old to witness, he said. After medical school, Alderson said he hopes to work in orthopedic trauma surgery, so the ER is a good setting for him, he said.
“Anyone who is interested in medicine should really come here and see what it’s really like,” Alderson said. “TV shows portray some crazy ER, but it’s quite different when you’re dealing with actual people.”
The high school students take the place of many of the hospital’s older volunteers, Stricker said, so that some of them can take a summer vacation with grandkids. Schreiber, who is also taking summer classes at Butler Community College, said she doesn’t mind a busy summer.
“I like staying busy,” she said. “I know I helped someone throughout the summer rather than just wasting away.”