Brian Martin arrived on the University of Iowa campus from Naperville, Ill., with plans to become a film director. Then he met a young cancer survivor named Cameron at UI Hospitals and Clinics and his whole life changed.
The UI senior had never liked hospitals—both sets of grandparents had died in hospitals—but he started spending time with Cameron and other pediatric oncology patients through the charitable activities of his campus fraternity during his first year at Iowa.
“Volunteering and having playtime with the kids opened my eyes to a lot of different possibilities,” Martin explains. “I saw that there could be fun activities in a hospital, too.”
The following year, Martin switched his major to nursing.
“Spending time at the hospital fueled my decision to become a nurse,” says Martin, who serves on the UI leadership team for the student-run philanthropy Dance Marathon. “I was struggling in classes that I didn’t really like, and I wanted to give back. Nurses have the most direct role in patient care, especially in oncology. To be able to provide an environment where it’s not all about pain, to make the best of a bad situation—I take pride in doing that.”
Having an academic medical center on the University campus does more than illuminate career possibilities for undergraduates, says Ken Kates, associate vice president and chief executive officer at UI Hospitals and Clinics. Known officially as University of Iowa Health Care, Iowa’s academic medical center consists of UI Hospitals and Clinics, the Carver College of Medicine, and UI Physicians, and covers more than 200 health care specialties. UI Hospitals and Clinics has 680 beds and accommodates nearly three-quarter million clinic visits a year.
“Students serve in a number of important roles within University of Iowa Health Care—from working as assistants in our research laboratories, to directly serving patients in the business office, to delivering meals to patient care units and working as parking valets, to critical volunteer activities such as Dance Marathon,” explains Kates. “And it is certainly a mutually beneficial relationship: while undergraduates receive tremendous educational opportunities and experience, UI Health Care benefits from the efforts of a committed, enthusiastic group of young people.”
Jean Reed, director of volunteer services at UI Hospitals and Clinics, regularly taps into that pool of energetic students, overseeing about 800 student volunteers each year. Although many of them already have an interest in the health sciences, Reed says students of any major can meet with her to find a volunteer opportunity that suits them—from telerecruiting in the blood donor center to assisting nurses to helping with technology issues. The experience, she adds, can enhance their résumés but also their perspectives.
“Most students are familiar with the roles of nurses and doctors, but here at Iowa we have every health care professional on the face of the earth, so they can observe so many different careers,” Reed says. “But what most students remember most about volunteering is having made a difference, like bringing a smile to the face of a patient who is having a bad day. And we are so blessed to have a pool of energetic students right next door; many hospital volunteer programs across the country are struggling to keep their programs vital.”
Some students directly take advantage of Iowa’s health care facilities to advance their academic pursuits. In fact, in addition to professional medical training, the Carver College of Medicine offers undergraduate classes in physiology and biophysics, biochemistry, anatomy and cell biology, and other basic sciences to about 5,000 students across campus.
Nabina Dongol was one of them. She graduated in May 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in clinical lab sciences, a selective undergraduate program in the Carver College of Medicine that prepares students for careers in laboratories. The students receive intensive training in several hospital labs.
“During the program, students have direct contact with the hospital and direct contact with patient specimens,” says Dongol, a Nepal native who now works in the hospital’s pathology department. “Getting to work with people in the field provides students with a great preview of what their jobs will be like.”
Missy McCrickard, meanwhile, isn’t pursuing a health care profession, but she says she is getting valuable experience through her job at UI Hospitals and Clinics. The senior communication studies major from Palos Hills, Ill., works about 15 hours a week in the Patient and Guest Services department, which relies on 75 student employees. McCrickard’s duties range from parking cars and helping patients navigate the clinics to checking families in to the hospital’s Rossi Guest House. Flexible scheduling and camaraderie among her student coworkers have kept her in the job for more than two years.
“In this job, you have to make a good impression—we are often the first person patients see when they arrive and the last person they see when they leave,” says McCrickard, who is considering a career in hospitality. “I took the job at first because I needed extra spending money, but now I’m here more for the experiences I’m getting. I think the interaction and people skills I’ve developed will help me in job searches.”
Another obvious advantage to having an academic medical center nearby is easy access to quality health care, and Kates understands this as well as anyone: his daughter, a UI junior, received emergency treatment at UI Hospitals and Clinics last year after a fall.
“Having such highly skilled medical and nursing professionals care for my daughter gave me great reassurance as a parent that her health care needs are in excellent hands at The University of Iowa—with the full resources of UI Hospitals and Clinics available to her.”
by Sara Epstein Moninger