Written by: Valerie Myers and Annabel Lee, VolunTeens
This summer at the Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, MD more than 50 high school students participated in the American Red Cross VolunTeen Program. The students received hands-on experience to learn what it’s like to be in a hospital setting and work in a Military Treatment Facility by engaging with patients, soldiers and other Red Cross volunteers. The competitive application process for the program began in the spring when high school students submitted a teacher’s recommendation and essays regarding their interest in the medical field, challenges they have faced in the past and relevant volunteering experiences. Just over 50 students were chosen to participate in the six week program that included a new educational component each week, called Medical Awareness for Teens.
Students were assigned to departments such as Audiology, Dermatology, Hematology, Psychiatry and Pediatrics. Besides answering phone calls and organizing files for the staff, the students supported doctors, nurses and technicians, and even observed medical procedures and processes depending on their department. Some students were also assigned to the Red Cross office, where they helped other Red Cross volunteers deliver coffee, snacks and toys for the patients and families receiving care at Walter Reed.
“I’ve really liked it so far,” said Alyssa Yu, teen volunteer in the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology department. “I think it’s a really cool experience. It’s different from other things that I would otherwise do because of my age. Before coming here, I wasn’t that into the medical field. To be honest, I thought it was cool instead of doing camp counseling or something, but now that I’m here, especially with Medical Awareness for Teens, I’m actually a lot more interested in it. Surgery seems really fun … And I really like the new research that they [the doctors] are showing.”
With the help of some amazing staff at Walter Reed, the Red Cross was able to include an educational component called Medical Awareness for Teens (M.A.T). The educational events created opportunities to learn in an interactive way and take a closer look at a few departments within the Military Treatment Facility.
The MAT Program was divided into five parts over the summer: Common Medical Diagnosis, Amputee Clinic, Radiation Oncology/Radiology, Simulation Center, and Occupational Therapy. In these briefings students had the opportunity to hold plasticized body parts while learning about common medical diagnoses and even got to touch a real brain! They were able to operate the CAREN system, an immersive virtual reality system...basically an interactive video game used to train for balance and skills. They were also taught basic suturing skills and were able to practice these skills in the Simulation Center.
“[MAT] brings much more hands-on experience than what my actual job entails,” senior Tristan Hanlin said.
Through the work in their departments and MAT, the VolunTeens were able to get an idea of what the medical field entails and what they could possibly pursue in the future. Not only will they have earned hours for their student service learning this summer, but they also gained an invaluable experience that can be applied in future careers.