“It Was an Amazing Thing” as High School Seniors Bond with Patients, Professionals

May 11th, 2018

When they arrived in April at JPS to tour the facilities and start a month-long stint as junior volunteers, high-achieving high school seniors from Fort Worth knew they wanted to pursue a career in healthcare.

JPS Volunteer and Community Engagement Coordinator Mitzi VanderArk and Community Outreach Recruitment Coordinator Patricia Garcia present volunteer Christina Lulenda with a certificate of completion.

JPS Volunteer and Community Engagement Coordinator Mitzi VanderArk and Community Outreach Recruitment Coordinator Patricia Garcia present volunteer Christina Lulenda with a certificate of completion.

As they concluded their experience this week with a certificate for completing their responsibilities, students said the chance to be close to patients and to talk with doctors, nurses, techs and pharmacists propelled their desire to help others to a higher level they couldn’t imagine before. Medicine is more than just science, they learned. It’s also about strength, compassion and overcoming fear.

“I want to be an RN because I want to help people and do something positive,” said student Adriana Rodriguez. “But to meet the patients and have a conversation with them about their feelings and their concerns really gave me a lot of insight into the difference I could make. This is an experience I will never forget.”

Rodriguez said her volunteer work at JPS, which is part of the curriculum of Gold Seal Program of Choice Health Sciences classes at O.D. Wyatt High School, included visiting with patients. Sometimes they wanted to play cards. But, most of the time, patients really just needed someone to talk to. One person Adriana met was in the Oncology Unit. She went into the meeting with plans to try to cheer up the man and inspire him to have the strength he needs to conquer cancer. But she left feeling as if he inspired her every bit as much as she helped him.

“We had a connection because he told me that he had a son in the same grade as me,” Adriana recalled. “He said he has pneumonia and that he feels weak, so he was afraid he can’t be the father figure he once was. I told him that I’m sure having his son see him battling through this inspires him more than he gives himself credit for.”

The man told Adriana that he was impressed with her compassion and dedication because not every teenager would willingly give their free time up to sit with a sick person they didn’t even know in the hospital. He encouraged the student to make the most of her gifts to become a nurse and to never settle for something short of her dreams because life is too short for that.

“We thought we were motivating him,” Adriana said. “But he was motivating us, too. It was an amazing thing.”

Christina Lulenda, who wants to become a nurse practitioner, said she came to America when she was 11 years old after spending most of her life up to that point in a refugee camp in the African nation of Malawi. There she saw people die on a regular basis from a lack of food, clean water and medical attention. Seeing the facilities and meeting doctors, nurses and techs at JPS made Christina realize how she could achieve her dream of helping people avoid the sort of suffering and sickness she saw growing up.

“It was really hard,” Christina said. “People died out of nowhere. Because of that, I wanted to be able to help people with medical attention. The people I have met here (at JPS) have been so supportive.”

Classmate Yazmin Ruiz had a similar experience growing up in Mexico.

“They don’t have the medicine there that we have here,” Yazmin, who hopes to become a physical therapist, said. “And they don’t know what it means when you have certain symptoms. People die because they don’t realize they need to see a doctor or they don’t have access to a doctor. That shouldn’t have to happen.”

The most influential thing that happened to Ruiz during her time at JPS was the reaction she got from patients she spent time with.

“One of them told me she just wanted to say ‘I appreciate what you’re doing’ to me,” Yazmin said. “Some patients shared their worries and their troubles. Others asked us to pray with them. It made me feel like I am doing the right thing to see I could make a difference in their lives. It really inspired me to never give up.”

Mitzi VanderArk, JPS Volunteer and Community Engagement Coordinator said it was exciting to see how much the students learned and grew during their short time here. She said she can see their compassion and their determination and that she couldn’t wait to see them come back some day as professionals who made good on their dreams to use their abilities to help others.


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