Patients thrive as they engage with eager student volunteers

It is hard to imagine Carle without its steadfast volunteer force. More than 2,000 volunteers contribute 120,000 hours each year at Carle, according to Megan Holland, director of Volunteer Services. Holland said that makes Carle’s program larger than Rush University Medical Center’s in Chicago or Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s in St. Louis. 

Proximity to the University of Illinois means Volunteer Services attracts bright and motivated students to the volunteer corps. About 500 Carle volunteers are students looking to gain exposure to hospital work and culture, as well as a competitive advantage when their undergraduate careers end.

Two students, James Ryoo and Mahima Goel, came to Carle early in their academic careers and have more than gone through the motions—they have grown to be leaders focused on making a contribution. They worked their way up the ladder to become student leader coordinators this school year. 

Eager to make the student volunteer experience as rich as it can be and truly make a difference for patients, Goel, Ryoo and Volunteer Services recently launched a pilot program called Comfort Rounding.

“The original objective of Comfort Rounding was to give the volunteers more patient interaction,” Ryoo said. “The most repeated comment from volunteers is they didn’t have enough stuff to do in their departments and they didn’t have enough patient contact.”

Wanting more

Student volunteers stock and organize patient care areas, help at front desks and take some of the burden off staff. And when they engage with patients, they improve the patient experience, Holland said.

“Anytime someone who isn’t doing a medical procedure comes in the room to deliver something or ‘just to chat,’ it can be a calming and normalizing experience for the patients,” she said.

The recent introduction of iTIGR—software available on each hospital patient’s TV—created an opening for more student volunteer-patient interaction during Comfort Rounding. The same remote that controls patient call lights and the TV accesses iTIGR’s extensive video library of patient education resources, hospital information and entertainment.

Ryoo and Goel said most patients aren’t aware of iTIGR’s features or how to use it, so they created a PowerPoint to train students to approach patients about iTIGR. Students enter rooms and ask patients if they want to learn about iTIGR.

Then the knowledgeable volunteer walks them through the features.

Goel said iTIGR training is simply a device to make Comfort Rounding effective, to help students feel empowered to enter rooms and speak with patients. Once inside, volunteers engage in whatever ways are helpful to patients and staff.

“With increased rounding, in general, you are able to catch the little things, like moving their table back over by the bed or adjusting volume on the TV, or if they need a nurse, to go get one,” Holland said. “All of the little things add up to create an environment where the patient is cared for both medically and emotionally.”

Favorable feedback

Five hospital units have piloted Comfort Rounding for the past several weeks. Ryoo and Goel believe early feedback from volunteers shows its potential.

For example, one volunteer reported rounding on a quiet patient led to a deep conversation about film where he suggested a movie on iTIGR. When he rounded again a few days later, the volunteer learned the patient had watched the movie and appreciated the recommendation. And the talk.

Comfort Rounding forges a connection, Goel said.

For volunteers and for patients, any connection can be meaningful.

Goel was touched when a patient approached her at a grocery store and introduced Goel to her family. And she thinks of bonding with a little boy she played Legos with and reassured when he asked if his grandmother was going to be OK following her colonoscopy. She believes even simple exchanges influence the overall patient experience.

“I would like to think we have a positive impact because every smile in the hospital has a positive impact,” Goel said.

Ryoo remembers a confused Korean couple in the Emergency Department. He used his fluency in Korean to help sort out problems and even accompanied them to the police station after his shift.

“That bus ride home was really great because I really felt like I did something—I felt that sense of achievement. That’s something that I hope this program will help,” he said.

Volunteer Services will get feedback from volunteers, and Holland expects the program will roll out to all units in the fall.

Next steps

As for Ryoo and Goel, their experience at Carle influenced their professional goals.

Ryoo began volunteering with a career in research in mind, but now his sights are set on medical school. After getting his undergraduate degree last spring, he took the first step toward med school by participating in the first Carle Health Care Tech in Training program last fall. He works as a health care tech in addition to serving as student leader coordinator.

Goel, a psychology major and spring graduate, originally thought she would study law but discovered through health classes and her Carle volunteer work, psychology and research were a better fit. She was pleased the Comfort Rounding project received the Innovative Project of the Year award from UIUC Office of Volunteering Programs last week.

A fitting end to these student leaders’ volunteer experience at Carle.