Teens learn duties in hospital, medical fields

Rodney Harrison rushes around in the Carolinas Medical Center-University emergency room, stocking gloves, sheets, juice and gowns for the patients who will inevitably come through the ER doors.

The 15-year-old rising sophomore at Cox Mill High School in Concord is one of 43 teenagers taking part in the hospital's summer teen volunteer program, which offers a glimpse into the daily workings of a medical metropolis by placing students in various departments.

In his first four-hour shift, Harrison watched a man's pained grimace dissolve after a nurse gave him medicine. He jumped aside as paramedics rushed a patient on a stretcher past him, and he observed the carnival of sights and sounds that come from the ER's blinking and whirling technology.

For Harrison, who feels he is at a crossroads, unsure whether to pursue a career in medicine or train to become a pilot, the program offers the experience he needs to help find the right path.

"A majority express an interest in the medical field," said CMC-University Volunteer Coordinator Kim Sellars, who screens teen applicants each February for the summer positions that open in June. Not everyone who goes through the rigorous process makes it onto the hospital floor.

"We look for that passion," said Sellars, who plucked Harrison's application out of the 48 she received before the March deadline. Besides his strong teacher recommendation, solid references and good grades, Harrison's essay, required of all applicants, showed an eagerness to help others.

He filled one of the 23 slots available to new teens. Returning volunteers from last summer secured the other 20 positions offered.

Teens may volunteer anywhere except maternity wards and operating rooms. "It really depends on what they say during the interview," said Sellars, of where many end up volunteering. "If they say they want to be a doctor, I may place them in the ER because they have a lot of access to doctors there."

That decision made all the difference to Lauren Helms, 18, who began volunteering at CMC-University as a freshman at David W. Butler High School in Matthews and has continued since her graduation this year.

Helms had volunteered in pre-admission, out-patient surgery and the sixth floor nursing, but knew she wanted to become an ER nurse after watching the team work with a patient in the ER department one day last year. "It was just amazing to see all of the people rushing for this one patient to try and get him back," she said. "This is what I want to do. I want to help save lives."

Helms will begin her first year at UNC Charlotte's nursing program this fall.

"A lot of them come in that have dreams of becoming doctors, nurses, surgeons," said Sellars, who frequently receives phone calls from medical schools following up on prospective students who once logged volunteer hours at the hospital. "While they're volunteering it can give a good feel of what to look for."

Helms agrees. "It gets you used to the hospital, and lets you see if you really want to do this."