1. Expanding and improving the Activity Cart at The James Cancer Hospital during the 2016-2017 academic year allowed me to provide patients and families with new activities, comfort materials, and—most importantly—companionship. Time to plan activities and visit patients in the volunteer role was the one thing I needed most to be able to give patients and families all I had to offer. STEP gifted me the time that I needed with the opportunity to stay in Columbus during the summer months—a critical time for the program’s growth.
2. The activities on the Activity Cart are not the most important aspect of the cart, but rather a means to accomplish the goal of providing companionship to patients and family members. This is analogous to my STEP project in that the most important aspect was not the planning of the project, but the way in which I executed my plans with passion. In a transformational way, my STEP project made me realize that one of the greatest opportunities is being able to express love and show understanding to people while living each day in the service of others. When I visit patients in their rooms with the Activity Cart, I show empathy during conversations with patients and families and I experience the fulfillment of putting a smile on the faces of others. I am able to obtain a wide breadth of patient perspectives because each conversation, family, and patient is dynamically different. From this volunteering role, I gained a deeper comprehension of what would be required of me to heal patients’ bodies and minds as a future physician.
When I applied the same efforts and observations in my daily academic life that I did while volunteering, I witnessed that similar positive results arose. If I put others’ needs before my own or sought to deeply understand another person’s perspective before expressing my own, as I did while in the hospital, my interactions with others became exponentially more productive. In high school, I learned the importance of tolerating people versus accepting them. In my STEP project during college, I learned that it is not enough to accept others and their ideas or emotions. Rather, one must fully embrace someone’s perspective to be able to contribute his or her best self. Society is one large team that functions on embracing and understanding others to accomplish greater goals—as I had done with people in the hospital to give them hope, a reminder to smile, or a goal of completing an activity. Since my STEP project took off, I now leave patients rooms or everyday conversations with emotions that mirror those of the people with whom I speak because it allows me to embrace both my own ideas and the ideas of others. STEP transformed my way of thinking by reminding me that the most meaningful and fulfilling parts of my day are the times I am able to bring joy, relief, or partnership to people simply with my presence and desire to understand them.
This experience was transformative for my personality and life as a future physician in that it allowed me to act on the immense love and compassion I have for others. It also guided my learning from the people with whom I interacted and humbled me through exposure to a great human strength that I would not otherwise understand without the patients’ willingness to let me see through their eyes. Most notably, this project was also transformative for the patients of The James and the volunteers, donors, and coordinators involved because they helped to make a difference in the days and lives of community members who need love.
3. In essence, the people I worked with while planning my STEP project including Katie Kiene, Christine Curry, and Regina Wicks-Frank from the volunteer services office at The James and the many family members and patients I visited made my experience transformational. The Activity Cart is a unique initiative that seeks to fulfill the needs of patients and families that are difficult to meet otherwise. Not many people will admit they want something to help them escape from negative situations or someone to talk to until they are approached. Even fewer people will realize that they want something to help pass the time or crave companionship unless they are asked or until they see the cart in the hallway. The Activity Cart offers a helping hand in more ways than one and I have realized that my responsibilities as a volunteer completely change from week to week, depending on what people need. In this position, I have searched for a physician on the 10th floor who positively impacted a family who wanted to say goodbye before they left. I have met people in the elevators and in the hallways and ended up spending time with them or providing activities to them. I have met patients who inspire the entire staff who interact with them and who make the hospital a better place with their presences. I have also helped put together small kits or presents for patients to give their visiting children or family members and I have had the pleasure of witnessing their reactions.
While no volunteering day is “typical”, each day involves me preparing the cart and putting together activities for distribution, planning new crafts or things to do with patients, and talking with patients in their rooms or completing activities with them. Some conversations are short and simply involve me asking people where they are from and what interests they have so that I may give them a magazine, crossword puzzles, or coloring pages that might be of interest to them. Some conversations—and typically the conversations and people who have impacted me the most—are very long. One visit that was memorable to me was with a patient, her husband, and her daughter. The mood was solemn when I first walked into the room. They did not seem interested until I listed some of the activities that we offer on the cart. As they listened, their faces lifted and they each requested something. I spent an additional 45 minutes with them after, during which time we shared many laughs and they spoke about their hobbies, hometown, work lives, and shared childhood stories. They also asked me questions about my studies and future career plans and wished me a successful future. I helped the patient make a bracelet—an activity we titled “Moment Beads” which encourages patients to associate each bead on a bracelet with a happy memory or moment—and she told me she would remember me and all of the kind people at The James when she wore it. I had been having a stressful week before our visit, but as we said goodbye, the sun seemed to shine just a little brighter for all of us on that day.
The impact of the Activity Cart is immeasurable. However, if one were to approach someone—including the nurses and other staff members—who has experienced the Activity Cart or one of the two volunteers, they would tell you that it brings smiles to those who have participated in the interactions it provides.
4. I truly believe that my engagement in this project cultivated the growth of my professional and academic identities because it provided me with patient interaction experience, enhanced my leadership and planning skills, and allowed me to expand my network of medical professionals. My involvement in the expansion of the Activity Cart program also provides me with unique experiences to share with my future peers, current colleagues, and future patients. Being a part of the program’s growth and having the ability to volunteer for the cart has taught me how a small, humanitarian idea can have a larger effect than was imaginable. The obstacles faced while planning reminded me that if things do not occur accordingly, one must persevere to accomplish set goals—which, for me, was to bring happiness to others through my volunteering and STEP project. By extension, the valuable patient interactions that my STEP project provided will aid understanding of my own patients in my future career as a Doctor of Medicine.