Volunteering at M. D. Anderson

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

Cancer Newsline Audio Podcast Series

Date: August 31, 2009

Duration: 0 / 09:32

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Lisa Garvin:

 

Welcome to Cancer Newsline, a weekly podcast series from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Cancer Newsline helps you stay current with the news on cancer research, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention providing the latest information on reducing your family's cancer risk. I'm your host, Lisa Garvin. Today we are talking with Mary Donnelly Jackson, the program coordinator for Volunteer Services here at M.D. Anderson. Welcome Mary.

 

Mary Donnelly Jackson:

 

Thank you for having us.

 

Lisa Garvin:

 

Anyone who's been at M.D. Anderson has seen the army of blue and white pin striped coded volunteers cruising throughout the institution. Tell us a little bit about volunteer services at M.D. Anderson.

 

Mary Donnelly Jackson:

 

Well, we have the largest hospital-based volunteer program in the nation. We have over 1300 volunteers. Our volunteers range in age from 14 to 95 and one of the beauties of our program is that we have many opportunities for volunteers. We are available at daytime, weekend or evening and we have different levels of patient contact depending on what the volunteer feels comfortable with whether it be direct, limited or new patient contact.

 

Garvin:

 

Now, a lot of our volunteers are cancer survivors, but that's not really a prerequisite.

 

Jackson:

 

That's a good point. Some people are under the misconception that you have to be a survivor to be a volunteer and although we do have many, many survivors that's not a prerequisite. So, our volunteers come with all different types of backgrounds and experiences.

 

Garvin:

 

And it sounds like you are looking for a lot of different expertise. I mean, there are so many different flavors of volunteerism here at M.D. Anderson.

 

Jackson:

 

That's correct. Sometimes people think they want to help out and they're not quite sure how comfortable they feel working one-on-one with the cancer patients. So, we have over 70 different types of volunteer positions to choose from and you know if someone has a unique talent, for example if they are a gardener. We have a rose garden that they could cultivate roses and then those are collected and taken out to the patients or if someone is a violinist. They can provide entertainment in the lobbies for our patients. So, I think that's one of the nice things about our volunteer program is we have so many different types of positions to offer with different levels of patient contact with different talents that's easy for everyone to find their niche.

 

Garvin:

 

Because I've seen, do we still have the Jolly Trolley?

 

Jackson:

 

We do. We do. That's a good example. The Jolly Trolley is a snack cart that goes around to the different clinic waiting areas and it's kind of a win-win for the volunteers. They have a lot of patient contact and they provide a wonderful service. And the patients and caregivers enjoy it because if you ever been to M.D. Anderson you know a lot of times people had several appointments scheduled in one day and they may be waiting on extended period of time in the clinic and they are hungry and they want a cup of coffee or snack and they are afraid to leave their waiting area to go to the cafeteria and this is a service that the volunteers that can bring lunch to them or snack to them.

 

Garvin:

 

Is there an age limit? Do you have to be at least 18 to be a volunteer?

 

Jackson:

 

Actually we have a very active teen program for students who are between the ages of 14 to 17. And they are offered the same opportunities pretty much as the adult program. We have some specific just for teens that some of the adult positions they can help with as well. But we have approximately 200 teen volunteers every year. We usually have a waiting list, so it's a very popular program.

 

Garvin:

 

That's great to know that teens are getting involved.

 

Jackson:

 

Oh yes, definitely. And I think the patients and caregivers like it too. I think they enjoy seeing the youth there providing support. I know just from my observation with the teens that it's really a growth experience for them.

 

Garvin:

 

In talking with the volunteers who have not had cancer, have you found that this has been a transformative experience for them?

 

Jackson:

 

I think so and that makes my job rewarding because I hear so many stories that so many volunteers will come in to my office and tell me about how a position at M.D. Anderson as a volunteer really helps them put their life in perspective. And they may think that they're having a bad day and they walk in and talk to a patient who's so upbeat and so positive they can really make a difference in their lives. So, I know from a personal experience I was a volunteer here too and I think sometimes it was the highlight of my week, you know. Sometimes -- I was a evening volunteer and a lot of times I'd you know wonder I'd be tired from work all day and have to battle the traffic to get over here and sometimes I'd leave with more energy than when I came.

 

Garvin:

 

That's the one thing that I found to be amazing about M.D. Anderson is that patients are the most positive people I have ever met. You would think that cancer hospitals would just be kind of doomed and gloomy, but they are not. It's almost the opposite here.

 

Jackson:

 

It really is. As I said, it's a rewarding experience. I think that's part of our training that we provide for the volunteers is we always had the volunteers come here for their orientations. Sometimes I've been asked to do an offsite location. I think it's so important to actually walk in the door at M.D. Anderson, get a feel for it to see if this is the right volunteer opportunity for them.

 

Garvin:

 

Let's talk about the Anderson Network, it's under Volunteer Services, but it's kind of a specialized volunteer service.

 

Jackson:

 

Right. The Anderson Network offers a lot of possibilities. One thing that we have is a matching program, which provides people to provide volunteer support without actually physically being here in Houston. When a new patient comes through or a caregiver can come through M.D. Anderson they can be put in contact with a survivor or caregiver who has a similar situation as possible and so they can provide support by phone, by email. Sometimes if they do live in the same city they do actually meet. But that's just one of the services at the Anderson Network. In addition to that, we have a Living Fully with Cancer conference that takes place in September and that will be coming out and it's just really an uplifting energetic conference with survivors. We also have a camp for survivors as well. So, we have many opportunities for the Anderson Network.

 

Garvin:

 

Now, if people want to volunteer, but don't necessarily live close enough to M.D. Anderson, should look to see if there ways they can check out volunteer opportunities in their community for working with cancer patients?

 

Jackson:

 

If they are a survivor the Anderson Network is really the best avenue for that. That's really the number one way that they can help.

 

Garvin:

 

Mary, do you have any personal anecdotes that would kind of bring home the volunteer experience for our listeners?

 

Jackson:

 

Well, actually from a personal experience as you mentioned the first time that I had an interaction with M.D. Anderson was when both my parents were diagnosed within six weeks of each other and I didn't live in Houston at that time. I was running late, didn't allow enough time for parking in the garage and a lot of what our visitors get through as well and I guess I looked a little frazzled because the first person who approached me was a volunteer in a jacket and he simply helped me find where my mother was. He escorted me out to that area and I always thought that was so nice that I was probably one of many, many people he helped that day, but I never forgot about it that moment. So because of that when I eventually move to Houston I joined the volunteer team as well and now it's turned into a career also. So, I always tell our volunteers never to underestimate the difference that they can make whether it be just simply escorting a patient up to their appointment or providing them a cup of coffee or maybe they are the one person that is available that day just to listen if they want someone to talk to. So, I think that's the difference that our volunteers can make.

 

Garvin:

 

If people are interested in becoming a volunteer at M.D. Anderson, how do they initiate the process?

 

Jackson:

 

Well, they can call our phone number at 713-792-JOIN. The first step is to complete an interest questionnaire, so we can learn a little bit about them and we'll conduct the telephone screening, and then the next step is for them to come in to the volunteer orientation. It's a class that's just an overview of our programs to see if this is the right volunteer program for them. From there they will come in for a one-on-one interview either with me or another staff person to sit down and really talk about the right volunteer position for the volunteer. I think that's important to sit down individually and think you know what's going to be the best step for the volunteer, how can they help the patients. And once we firm up what the right position for that volunteer is, there is the application that's submitted with the background check and then they'll come in and be trained one-on-one with the seasoned volunteer that's been in that same position for a while. So, we really part ourselves in training our volunteers. We think the better trained they are, the more comfortable they'll feel and the better they'll be able to serve the patients and caregivers. And then throughout the year we offer either continuing education event, opportunities and different ongoing trainings, again to better train them, but then also these are key benefits for becoming a volunteer.

 

Garvin:

 

And I know some volunteers have been with us for years.

 

Jackson:

 

We do. We have many volunteers. It's very impressive to see their hours. They'll have like 10,000 hours and it's just really amazing and yeah, as I said from my own personal experience a lot of them will say that it's the highlight of the week sometimes and I'm really fortunate to have the opportunity to meet all these volunteers. You know it's rewarding that we're helping the patients, but then also we're helping the volunteers also.

 

Garvin:

 

Great! Thank you, Mary for telling us about volunteerism at M.D. Anderson. Again, if you are interested that number is 713-792-JOIN, J-O-I-N. If you have questions about anything you've heard today on Cancer Newsline, contact askMDAnderson at 1-877-MDA-6789 or online at www.mdanderson.org/ask. Thank you for listening to this episode of Cancer Newsline. Tune in next week for the next podcast in our series.

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