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Published on February 17, 2017

You can’t get this watching a doctor on TV

Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital don’t expect to see someone like Dr. Doogie Howser walk through their doors this summer, but there’s still a place for teens.

“Teen volunteers provide us with a great service,” said Patricia Boris, program manager for volunteer services at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis. “We really appreciate their energy, especially at a hospital like ours, which gets very busy during the summer.”

“When they deliver meals, magazines or books, the patients love to see the young, fresh faces,” said Susan Hanley, director of volunteer services at Falmouth Hospital. “It brightens their day.”

A member of the New England Association of Hospital Volunteer Directors, Boris said her program is typical of what’s offered at most community hospitals. Students 15 and older apply during the winter, and both she and Hanley receive more applications than they have slots to fill. After applicants are selected and pass a health clearance, they go through a day-long orientation.

The application process for this summer’s teen volunteers is underway for both Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital. Last year, Cape Cod Hospital accepted 60 teen volunteers by mid-March and Falmouth Hospital lined up its 30 volunteers by the end of April.

High-school volunteers are used only during the summer.

At Cape Cod Hospital, teen volunteers assist with errands and patient transport.

“Both require a lot of walking and keep the students busy,” said Boris. “You get to know the hospital and the various departments and how they work together.”

Errands include delivering newspapers, flowers and greeting cards to patients, as well as taking records or charts from pre-admissions testing to the procedure area or delivering samples to a lab.

Volunteers doing patient transport work in teams and help move patients in wheelchairs or on a stretcher, from their room to get an X-ray or other procedure, for example.

“Transport is a good test of whether they have a good bedside manner,” she said. “It’s one of the volunteer assignments where you get lots of direct patient contact and a huge amount of interaction with clinical staff. Whether it’s the nursing staff on the floor or the technicians in radiology, you can see what they do.”

At Falmouth Hospital, many of the volunteers work with the dietary program to deliver meals to patients and clear trays. Some help with clerical work and others assist the physical therapy department by putting equipment away.

“They all seem to enjoy it, even though sometimes the tasks we ask them to do are pretty menial,” said Hanley. “More than 50 percent come back for a second year.”

Boris also sees a lot of happy volunteers.

“It is amazing how many students return from the previous summer and how many new student applicants, who have older brothers and sisters who volunteered here in past summers, apply because of the great experience their older sibling had in our summer program,” she said.

Hanley said it’s a great way for teens to get an inside look at the inner workings of a hospital.

“A lot of them are looking to see if healthcare is an area they want to pursue,” she said. “Even if they don’t have direct care, they can see what’s going on at the hospital. It might help them decide, ‘Maybe I’d like to be a nurse or a doctor or a radiation tech or a physical therapist.’ Some might say, ‘I could be a great maintenance person or dietary worker.’ It’s not just medical professionals.”

Some high school students volunteer primarily to fulfill a community service requirement, but others choose to volunteer at the hospital because they’re considering a career in medicine, said Boris.

“It’s the kind of information and experience that you can’t get from watching doctors on TV,” she said.