Over the summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to participate in the Red Cross VolunTEEN Program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The VolunTEEN Program lets teenagers from across the DMV volunteer in different clinics at Walter Reed.
I learned about the VolunTEEN Program through my mother’s friend, whose daughter participated during the summer of 2017. I asked her about her experience at Walter Reed and she said that she loved it and had a great time. Her positive response was one of the major factors that played into my decision to apply. I had considered becoming a doctor before I even heard about the program, and so I thought that participating would help provide clarity in my future as this program would expose me to the work environment of a hospital.
The application process started in February of this year, and it required a 500-word essay and one or two letters of recommendation from a teacher, coach, or mentor. I was notified that I got into the program during the middle of May, and I was ecstatic that I would be able to spend my summer doing something really meaningful and beneficial.
Orientation took place the last week of June, where all the VolunTEEN's received a tour of the Red Cross Office, obtained badges and name tags, learned more about how the Red Cross supports the hospital and received information on what department we were assigned to. We also received an in-depth training on patient privacy from one of the hospitals Privacy Officers.
I was assigned to the Pediatric Sedation Unit (PSU), where I work two days a week. While I’m there, I clean beds, fill patient folders, and assist with organization in the storage area. My favorite thing to do in PSU is watch procedures. When my shift coincides with a procedure, I’m allowed to go into the operating room and watch. Thankfully, none of the procedures have been too gory, which is a plus because I do not tolerate blood well at all, which isn’t ideal for someone who wants to be a doctor. The doctors are always so happy to see kids watching their procedures, and will sometimes stop to show us stuff. Speaking of great staff, the nurses who work in PSU are amazing. They’re so friendly and nice and they’ve been super informative about the general operations of the hospital.
When I’m not working in PSU, I’m usually helping out in the Red Cross Office. I usually re-stock the storeroom, take calls, or deliver items requested by patients throughout the hospital. The best part about working in the office is definitely taking the Kids Cart. The Kids Cart is a cart which gets filled up with games, toys and boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, and is taken around to all the pediatric sections of the hospital, where kids and their parents can take games and toys and enjoy some cookies. Seeing the kids’ faces as they see all the games and toys, and the variety of Girl Scout Cookies roll by, is amazing and super rewarding because it confirms that what I’m doing is really important and beneficial. Something else that is confirmed by the Kids Cart is that Trefoils (in the blue box) are indeed superior to all other forms of Girl Scout Cookies because they disappear off of the cart at a speed that would make you think that teleportation has already been invented.
The final thing that takes place in the VolunTEEN Program are Medical Awareness for Teens (MAT) programs. These programs took place throughout the course of the summer and gave the VolunTEENs an inside look at specific practices in the hospital. We would go to different parts of the hospital and see presentations given to us by doctors in different departments.
The first MAT program was about prosthetics and dentistry at Walter Reed. I learned about the process of creating different types of prosthetics, and even heard stories of people who had received prosthetics. We got to see different prosthetic body parts that were made for wounded warriors, including eyes, noses, ears, hands, and whole halves of faces. The stories of the wounded warriors who got prosthetics was very intriguing and inspiring. After the prosthetics section, two dentists came over and talked to us about dentistry in the military and the path they each took to become military dentists.
The second MAT program was about physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT). We learned about the differences and similarities between the two, and how each therapy type goes about providing support to patients. In my opinion, physical therapy is the “fun therapy” while occupational therapy is the “interesting therapy”. That’s not to say that OT would never be fun or that PT isn’t interesting, but they both have different strong points. While we learned about PT, we took part in some therapeutic relay races where two teams competed to see who could do the form of therapy properly and the quickest. We put rubber bands around our legs and attempted to walk along the sidewalk outside, however for some, more time was spent trying to stand back up then actually walking. We also tried to stand on an unstable rubber circle contraption and throw a ball back and forth, but for some people that was just as unsuccessful as the first race.
The final part of PT was going to see the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) lab, which essentially is a huge virtual reality game that helps patients in their recovery. They have a skiing simulation, a hiking simulation, a hit-sharks-with-a-boat simulation. Overall, it was a super cool experience, which really displays how advances in technology can be used for medicinal purposes. While OT didn’t have any virtual reality contraptions or children falling over, it did have a really interesting way of providing therapy. There was a kitchen in OT, where patients will go and learn how to cook and become familiar with a home environment, which is really important. Additionally, depending on where the patient was injured, different board games would be played with the patient. For example if the patient had trouble pinching his/her finger and thumb together, they would play Jenga where you are forced to make a pinching motion to move the blocks. Overall, both forms of therapy were interesting and cool, and it was great that I got to see how they work.
The final MAT program was working with ultrasounds, forensics, and the morgue. Which took place in the Uniformed Services University (USU). I learned how to use an ultrasound, which I found to be the best part of the tour, and got to practice on my fellow VolunTEENs. After that, we watched a power-point presentation about forensic pathology and learned about different types, forms and manners of death. We were then able to identify which form or manner is present based on marks on the body. The final part of the MAT program was the morgue in the basement. We split into groups and looked at bodies that have been dissected to see what the body really looks like inside. That was by far the most interesting part of the whole VolunTEEN Program because I got to see the complexities and intricacies of the body.
|Walter Reed National Military Medical Center|
To learn more about our Service to the Armed Forces program, visit: https://www.redcross.org/local/washington-dc/about-us/our-work/service-to-the-armed-forces.html.