CLINTON – Candy stripers of yesteryear were often teenage girls who volunteered in hospitals to make a patient’s stay there more pleasant. Although the Candy Striper program originated in the 1940s, today both male and female high school students from Prince George’s and Charles counties who are selected to complete MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s […]
CLINTON – Candy stripers of yesteryear were often teenage girls who volunteered in hospitals to make a patient’s stay there more pleasant.
Although the Candy Striper program originated in the 1940s, today both male and female high school students from Prince George’s and Charles counties who are selected to complete MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s (MSMHC’s) candy striper program have meaningful opportunities to sample healthcare fields during the summer.
Joanne Johnson, the volunteer services coordinator for the hospital located in Clinton, said two young men and 16 young women participated in the competitive seven to eight-week Summer Youth Volunteer Program. It combines traditional candy striper duties with newer educational opportunities such as the ability to work as volunteers in various areas of the hospital and experience MSMHC’s Mobile Lab, where youth volunteers learn to treat a robotic patient. Lunch-and-learn presentations on healthcare topics or other educational activities given by physicians, nurses and therapists are also offered, although candy stripers do not have clinical duties.
“What we do here each summer is allow high school students between ages 15 and 17 to have an opportunity to volunteer at the hospital in different departments,” Johnson said. “Most of the time we try to place them in an area where they’re interested in when they apply, because they have to fill out an application, write an essay, (submit) recommendation letters, submit their grades and do an interview, so it’s actually a selection process. It’s set up so the students who have an interest in a medical career, or even an interest in volunteering in a hospital, will be able to interact here at the hospital where they can meet with different doctors, nurses, physicians, things like that.
Johnson said the program allows students to get the community service hours they need for school, get exposure to the hospital and gain knowledge of the different medical fields they’re interested in.
Amaya Jernigan, 16, is a MSMHC candy striper program participant and works on an orthopedic floor where some patients are getting knees or other body parts replaced. Amaya said shadowing medical professionals in different areas has provided valuable insight and she has learned secretarial functions along with other skills. She answered phones, escorted patients and learned how to page nurses. However, the student who attends Westlake High School in Waldorf already has a career path in mind.
“When I get older, I’d like to be an orthopedic doctor,” Jernigan said. “The most rewarding part about being here (at MSMHC) throughout the summer for me, it was that I’ve got a step ahead in my career already. I’ve already been in the environments of where I want to be.”
Niyetce Johnson, 17, wanted to get involved in the candy striper program because she aspires to become a neurosurgeon. In addition to having an opportunity to be involved in the community, she felt being in a hospital environment would help her to determine if a hospital was really a place she would truly want to work.
The Elizabeth Seton High School student volunteered on a floor where neurosurgeons work. She said she realized patients do not want to be in the hospital, so asking simple things like if they need water or talking to them can make them feel more comfortable. Niyetce also gained insight on the importance of providing compassionate patient care and maintaining communication.
“Something I learned here that I didn’t expect to learn is how important it is to effectively communicate with patients and really give them that feeling and compassion, because it really goes a long way,” she said.
Another volunteer, 16-year-old Carsen Essing, will soon begin her junior year at North Point High School. She worked with medical staff all summer and was able to observe behind-the-scenes aspects of patient care. Volunteering as a candy striper gave Essing desired exposure to the medical field as she explores which healthcare occupation she may pursue.
“I want to work in the medical field. I am not sure what specialty I would like, but I was hoping that doing this would help me to decide to see what I liked to determine what I wanted to do,” she said. “I think a lot of people just see the doctors and don’t realize there are a lot of people behind the scenes who don’t do medical things, who work just as hard.”
Johnson said at the end of the summer, volunteers who will be rising high school seniors, who provided 75 hours volunteering and meet other qualifications can apply for the Candy Striper Volunteer Scholarship. To find out more about the program, visit www.medstarsouthernmaryland.org and search for volunteer opportunities.