Former Grand River Hospital volunteer Shwetha Suresh has credited GRH’s hospital elder life program (HELP) as a springboard to her studies as a medical student.
Shwetha gave her time for four years as a HELP volunteer. She met with hospitalized patients, had conversations, guided them in exercises and played purposeful games… all with the goals of improving recovery and preventing hospital-associated delirium.
“HELP certainly reinforced my pursuit of a career in medicine,” said Shwetha, who is now studying at the University of British Columbia after completing a biomedical sciences degree at the University of Waterloo. “As a volunteer, I often observed various health care professionals working together for a patient’s well being. I soon learned that I wanted to be in that primary care circle... problem solving and assisting the patient to make the optimal decision.
“HELP provided me the opportunity to think like a physician, in assessing patients’ ability to orient themselves, exercise their limbs and perform mental tasks. It gave me a glimpse of the role I’ll take on in the future.”
Since 2012, HELP has had an enormous impact for patients at GRH’s Freeport and KW campuses. More than 2,000 patients have benefited from visits by HELP volunteers.
According to program coordinator Marsha Krueger, 275 young people have volunteered 25,000 hours (and counting) in this unique program. The experience has prepared many volunteers for future health sciences careers. More than 60 former or current volunteers are studying medicine, nursing, midwifery, and other paramedical professions to name a few.
Marsha has seen dozens of compliments from satisfied patients who’ve benefited from the services of HELP volunteers.
“The benefits for patients include social interaction and engagement, feeling of security in what is a busy environment, encouragement, functional movement exercises, mental stimulation through activities and assistance in feeding when necessary,” she explains. "Volunteers are excited to spend this time with patients and see the impact these interventions make to a patient emotionally and mentally.”
As she completes her studies in medicine, Shwetha looks forward to using her HELP experience to make a difference in communicating with patients.
“Volunteers in HELP speak with patients for 20 to 40 minutes, often having to transcend language barriers and sensory deficits. I worked to strengthen my ability to communicate clearly and effectively. On a fundamental level, you learn to better connect with people, regardless of how different they are from you,” she explained.
“HELP also provides plenty of opportunity to interact with patients and understand health care from their perspective, which would enable future health care providers to better engage in patient-centered care."