California Hospital – General Volunteering Program/ Meal Mates

About CHMC: California Hospital Medical Center first opened its doors in 1887 to serve the residents of Los Angeles. More than 120 years later, our hospital continues to deliver compassionate, quality healthcare. Today we offer caring, expert staff and state-of-the-art equipment to meet the growing needs of our community.

Accessible by: Metro (Expo Line), Bus (DASH), Car

Length of Commitment: 1 semester

Shifts Available: M-F during business hours only; Weekend shifts available after you have volunteered for a semester with supervisor approval. If you have not volunteered in a hospital  before, you will spend your first four weeks at the information desk.

Orientation: TBA

TB Testing: Two step TB test within the last 6 months is required

Reviews: 

I have volunteered at California Hospital for two semesters now and my experience has been very enjoyable. At orientation, I met Tracy, the very kind and ridiculously efficient volunteer coordinator. She and Dolores, her assistant, taught me everything I needed to know about volunteering at CHMC. They are both incredibly friendly and always ready to help in any way they can. If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to talk to them. It is easy to set up shifts, but it is likely that you will not be working with another volunteer- Tracy likes to space out the volunteers so there isn’t a mob of volunteers flooding one floor at the same time.
My first semester, I worked on the 6th Floor helping with Meal Mates, and to be honest, it was pretty boring. Most of the patients were sleeping or did not want to be disturbed. The nurses, although nice and hilariously sassy, were many times too busy to talk for long periods of time. Handing out the meals was as easy as it sounds. Overall, I had no complaints, but there was also nothing extraordinary.
It was in my second semester that I really began to enjoy volunteering at CHMC. After telling Tracy that I wanted to work with kids, I began volunteering in the pediatrics department, a smaller, more secluded area of the hospital on the 8th floor. I was given more responsibilities like cleaning IV machines, sterilizing the playroom, and organizing DVDs, which kept me from lounging around doing nothing. What I really loved was that I was allowed to play with the patients. If there was a child whose parents could not be with him/her at the moment, the nurses would ask me to draw with them or play a game. Because I personally love working with children, I thought this time was lots of fun and profoundly rewarding. Also, because it was smaller, I had more opportunities to interact with the nurses. We chatted about everything from school to the best places to eat to why Disneyland is obviously the happiest place on earth.
All in all, my time at CHMC was genuinely enjoyable. All the nurses are friendly and kind. If you want to observe a procedure, just ask. I hope you have as much fun as I did!

Anonymous
Second Semester THV Student
Spring 2015

——

This was my first semester joining THV, and I was assigned to California Hospital Medical Center, which is only a 10 minute drive from USC. I had signed up for the Ed Liaison program, which entails volunteering at the emergency room. The available shift times were quite flexible for me (since I had a car), and I could take a late night shift after my classes from 4:30 pm to 8:00 pm on Wednesdays. The whole experience was really rewarding, as the work is not too difficult: just restocking supplies, helping out patient requests or anything the nurses or medical team ask; but I was able to see up close different trauma cases and see how the doctors worked individually and as a medical team. Also, I was able to put what I learned in my Spanish class into practice by speaking Spanish in a medical environment, as many of the patients speak primarily Spanish. Volunteering gave me a great experience, but I realized that taking initiative is absolutely crucial if I wanted to get the most from my time. The nurses and doctors will assign tasks from time to time, but mostly I had to ask if any help was needed or just completed tasks that the nurses seemed too busy for without them having to ask. Overall, the volunteer turned out to be a very valuable experience, and I highly recommend CHMC as a great site to see how the medical team works and see interact first hand with different patients and the hospital environment.

Jeannie Lee
1st Semester Student
Spring 2015

——-

For my first semester at THV I volunteered at California Hospital Medical Center. This was actually my second choice in hospitals because it is very close to campus. I got to and from the hospital and campus by using the metro. It is very convenient and not too expensive. I used the metro on Jefferson and all you have to do is take the train that is going downtown towards Los Angeles and get off on Pico. Pico is the second stop so if there is not much traffic you can get to the hospital in no more than about 6-7 minutes. Once you get off the train you just have to walk about a block and then you’re at the hospital.

Tracy is the volunteer coordinator at California and she is really nice and easy to talk to. California offers two program, Meal Mates and ED Liaison. I was a part of Meal Mates and I really liked it. If you work Meal Mates you will have to be available during breakfast, lunch, or dinner hours. I worked on the 6th floor which was ortho on Wednesdays 4:30 pm – 6:30 pm for dinner. I passed out trays, refilled water pitchers and picked up trays when patients were done. This doesn’t sound too exciting, but if you’re looking for a lot of patient interaction this is great for that.

All the nurses on the floor I came across were very nice. They are willing to help you if you just ask and some will even grab you and start telling you how to do something. This happened with me when learning to answer call lights. Some nurses do sound a bit agitated when you tell them something, i.e something a patient needs, but this could be just because they’re busy. Overall CHMC was great and I totally recommend it!

Alexandria Amour
1st Semester Student
Spring 2015

——

I worked in CHMC’s Orthopedics ward for about 8 weeks in the Meal Mates program. The time commitment is only 2 hours a week, and travel by the Expo line is about 20 minutes each way. Parking is also free and plenty if you drive. Meal Mates shifts are available for every meal on weekdays. For example, dinner shifts are from 5:00pm­7:00pm. Tracy, the volunteer coordinator, prefers volunteers to come in on weekdays because weekends are flooded with non­THV volunteers. I’ve found that being the only volunteer in the ward also provides more opportunity for patient and staff interaction.

In Meal Mates, your job is really just to hand out meals and collect trays. While the job description seems bland (especially compared to CHMC’s other program as an Emergency Department Liaison, where you run errands in the ER), it offered me my first experience with direct patient contact. You are more in the role of a RN or CNA/PCT than a physician, which I think is extremely valuable because you get to really talk to patients. It was a very good way to develop excellent bedside manners. Comfort and familiarity with this level of patient communication is essential in the rapidly changing health care world, where patient­centered care is growing quickly and good communication remains one of the largest barriers. I have kept in contact with some of my patients, and we still communicate over email!

Raoul, the day PCT in the ward, was especially helpful to me. I can also tell that he was the one the RNs turned to when they needed help, and that he was an integral part of the staff. As a PCT, his role is closest to that of the volunteers so sometimes he can give some of his tasks to you. Tracy does a wonderful job at placing THV volunteers in interesting, relevant positions, so you will never find yourself working at the gift shop. There is also a lot of flexibility in scheduling, and the small weekly time commitment for Meal Mates is a plus. After the first semester, she is very accommodating to requests­­I will be working with the palliative care team when I return in the fall, since my emphasis is in gerontology and end­of­ life care.

1st Semester Student
Spring 2015

—–

For everyone who wants to volunteer through THV, CHMC gives you the opportunity to either do meal mates for two hours, or volunteer in the emergency department with extra training.  Unfortunately, the day offered for the extra training I was unable to attend.  I thought that initially handing out meals would be boring and unfulfilling. I am not sure if this type of volunteering would be for everyone, but the most exciting part of my week was volunteering on Friday.  In orientation, Tracy warns you that the patients may not be the friendliest because of their situation, but also that the staff may not pay much attention to you in the beginning since you are at the “lowest” of the totem pole.  Luckily, I was able to find joy in doing my job efficiently as well as effectively.  Handing out meals seems very trite, but the most rewarding part for me was to be able to talk to the patients.  I have been able to shadow doctors but volunteering is so unique because you get to interact with the patients from your own perspective, not rom a doctor’s “shadow” perspective. 

Some patients were asleep at this hour, but at least half or more were awake.  I was pleasantly surprised on how grateful and nice they were, always thanking me for doing little things extra such as bringing them another cup or more sugar.  Most of the time I was running around delivering food as quick as possible as well as anything else they needed.  After collecting all the meals again, I would ask the staff if they needed any more help.  It took them a couple of weeks for them to seek me out and ask if I could help with x, y, or z.  Luckily I was able to start pretty quickly, and eventually I was able to establish a really good relationship with the staff there.  The relationships that you develop the most in this position will be with the CNA’s, the RN’s, and the head nurse.  They would consistently thank me for taking away patients trays when they were one as well as when I was done with my shift. 

In the beginning, you don’t think that you are doing much but in reality what you do does help, especially the CNA’s, whose job it is to take away the trays and to record the patients’ food and liquid intake. It was such a humbling experience for me because I realized how important communication with the patients is in the medical field while doing this job.  It was obvious that every little thing that I did helped them out, and often my “humanistic” interaction was the only one they would have all day.  The nurses and other medical staff sometimes only come in and out with things that they need or must do for the patient.  I had such a great time that I will be continuing volunteering there over the summer and into next year. 

Tips: listen to the THV staff and get all the health clearance out of the way and before orientation.  I was able to do this and I am pretty sure I was one of the first volunteers to start, and that helped me cultivate the relationships that I established. 

Always smile when going into a patient’s room.  It really changes the entire dynamic of the atmosphere, it can change that patient’s mood who doesn’t like when others enter their room, and it changes your attitude about being in someone else’s room.  I can undoubtedly say that this particular action always has had positive results in one way or another.

Anonymous
1st Semester Student
Spring 2015
——
I have been volunteering at California Hospital Medical Center in the Emergency Department liaison program for a little less than a semester. The Emergency Liaison program is very new so it has some problems. At the central nurses station, the nurses tend to do by themselves most of the work volunteers can do, and they seem hesitant to entrust duties to volunteers. When I go to shift, I usually ask at the nurses’ station if anyone needs my help, and if they do not, I tell them that I will be in the triage room. The triage nurses usually have more for me to do; they let me take patients to ED South (another part of the Emergency Department), I bring patients in to be triaged, and I get blankets for patients waiting for beds. I also do rounds of the patients’ rooms, asking if they need food, water, or things to occupy their time, like books or crayons. Tracy Nordbak, the volunteer coordinator, is really nice and seems dedicated to making the volunteering experience better for everyone. The best advice I could give to a new volunteer would be to ask for help; if Tracy does not know that the program is not very good for the volunteers, experience-wise, then it will never get better.
Anonymous
1st Semester Student
Fall 2014
——

Overall, my experience at California Hospital this semester was very rewarding. It was a very different environment from any hospital that I have experienced. The convenience of California Hospital was very appealing to me from the beginning. However, I was intimidated by the community that California Hospital primarily serves. This is because I have never worked in an environment so dedicated to the safety of the hospital. Also, the population was very diverse. Breaking out of my bubble has helped me to gain empathy, compassion, and a deeper understanding of people. A good majority of my time at California Hospital was spent at the information desk answering phone calls from patients who needed help. About 30 minutes out of the two hours that I volunteered here each week was spent interacting with patients. In addition, I talked to many different providers (CNA’s, RN’s, medical school students, secretaries, and EMT’s) during my shifts. It is very important to be assertive and approach the staff. You can learn a lot from them, as many will give you advice, tell stories, and give you a unique perspective on the healthcare field. Some workers will be more helpful than others. In addition, it is important to gage how busy a provider is that day by observing them. It is probably best to not approach a worker who appears super busy and stressed out, as I have learned.

A con that I have personally experienced through California Hospital is that each week a different set of staff was located on my floor. Thus, I have not been able to form deep relationships with any health care providers. However, I have had the opportunity to talk to many different people because of this.

Anonymous
1st Semester Student
Fall 2014

I spent about six weeks this semester volunteering in the Transitional Care Unit at California Hospital Medical Center. The work I did was mainly answering patient calls and the telephone for the floor. The TCU is a relatively quiet, small unit where older patients will stay, usually for an extended period of time, while they are working on rehabilitation after a surgery, disease, or injury. Because the department is usually pretty quiet, the nurses there were willing to answer any questions I had about their work. The downside of this small department was that the few patients on the floor were usually resting or occupied with their physical therapy treatments while I was there.

The huge highlight of my experience happened during my second shift when there was a Rapid Response, which is relatively rare in the TCU since the patients are usually stable once they enter the TCU. The nurse said I could go observe what was happening so I was actually able to see a patient having a stroke. It was a really cool experience to see the patient’s symptoms in person and to watch the doctors decide how to move forward with treatment. Even though I didn’t get any hands on experience, I genuinely enjoyed my time at California Hospital. The biggest piece of advice I would give is to be really friendly and outspoken in order to get the most out of the experience.  3.5/5

Erin
First Semester THV Student
Fall 2013
—–

I had not stepped into California Hospital before I attended my interview to begin volunteering.  Between the walk from my car to the hospital, I noticed a few things that would affect my experience and continue to do so today.  First of all, the hospital is located right downtown, less than a mile from the Staples Center and almost as close to Skid Row.  While this proximity to USC is convenient for volunteering, the rest of the surroundings make it difficult at times to provide the best possible care.  With many homeless and underprivileged patients, a lot of resources at the hospital are dedicated to safety.  I noticed that there were many security guards on the premises at all times, which was comforting, but also made it seem like there was a possibility of a threat.  To me, a hospital is a safe haven, and I believe that California Hospital serves as this in a possibly violent area.  But, one should be aware that this is a potentially violent area, and a poor region, and the injuries and types of patients reflect this.

Once I got oriented to the hospital though, I realized that the energy and positivity of the staff was contagious.  I work on the 9th floor, which is dedicated to Telemetry.  Patients with cardiopulmonary injuries stay here, often for extended periods of time.  There are also some other types of patients that get sent to this floor, because it is the only floor that keeps heart monitors on the patients 24/7, observed by a technician/nurse at all times.  I always found it very interesting to look at the list of patients on the floor and their various illnesses, for they ranged from heart attack to alcoholism to pulmonary embolism.   They were kept under close care, and so doctors tended to send patients here if they needed close monitoring, but weren’t sick enough to be in the ICU.

I have now been volunteering for about 6 weeks, and I have learned something every time I go to the hospital.  I interact closely with the nurses, because I either deliver meals to the patients, or help out answering and transferring calls at the nurse’s station.  I initially was very intimidated by them, for they were all moving quickly, seemed very stressed and with little patience.  I feared I was getting in the way and being more of a nuisance than a help.  My first two weeks I was told to answer and transfer call lights and incoming calls, so I happily sat behind the desk and did so, not speaking to any of the nurses much further, or the other staff members.  I gradually came to get bored, and also build up my confidence, and asked if there was anything else I could do. I began to engage the heart monitor nurse, and she taught me about the various patients and how the monitor worked.  She let me go into a few patient rooms and see how the monitors were attached.  I was able to run errands for the nurses, and start to deliver meals.  I learned that you have to ask and be persistent, with a smile, if you want to truly get involved.  The nurses are overworked and tired, and they may not want to deal with telling you where to go, but chances are you can really help them, in which case they will be happier and more engaging.  For new volunteers, try doing this right away.  Don’t be intimidated by the fast pace, or feel out of place or like a bother.  If you make the effort to go outside your comfort zone, it will be worth it and come back to benefit you in the end, especially in a facility like this where those standing by the wayside will not be noticed and will be pushed further into the wayside.

First Semester THV Student
Fall 2013
—-

I absolutely loved my experience shadowing at CHMC. I shadowed in the ER Department and was given access to shadowing the physicians while they talked to and worked on patients. I was able to see all kinds of cases from major codes and resuscitations to minor procedures such as lumbar punctures.

The best part of volunteering at CHMC would have to be the volunteer coordinator Tracy Nordbak. She gets back to our emails the same day, is so incredibly organized with our volunteer assignments, and is very friendly. After struggling at so many other hospitals to keep in communication with their volunteer coordinators, Tracy was very refreshing.

Anonymous
2nd Semester Student
Summer 2012
——

It’s been a great experience, and everyone there is really nice. My first rotation was in Radiology, and I got to shadow Dr.Kamin. He’s a fantastic doctor to learn from, but most of the time I sat in a dark room watching the doctor read films. While I learned a lot about the field of radiology, I wish I had gotten more hands on experience.

I just started my second rotation in the ER, and it has definitely been more hands on. Although I am not shadowing any one doctor, I’ve been able to see a wide variety of cases. On my first day, I got to take all 6 vital signs, and help a nurse draw blood from a patient. You will most likely be following the nurses because the doctors are extremely busy, but you will learn a tremendous amount from just observing and helping the nurses.

Anonymous
2nd Semester Student
Summer 2012
——

I volunteered at California Hospital for 10 weeks in the ER department. The pros about California Hospital is that they are a private hospital and their volunteer program just started a year or two ago (not many rules set in). During my time in the ER, I shadowed the doctors during their runs and was able to ask them what was going on, etc. All of the doctors welcomed me with some who were more willing to teach than others. I was allowed to watch anything and everything and there was patient interaction. I was even able to assess patients alongside the doctors/residents.

The cons about California Hospital is that the volunteer does not have any role, especially through this shadowing program. When the doctors chart, there isn’t much to do since they already have staff who refill/restock equipment. On my down time, I would ask a nurse if they needed any help and they typically do; however, the time spent away from the doctor is the risk of missing a good trauma or just seeing something interesting. Also, the program was first introduced to CSULA early entry pre-med students who are younger than the typical college student. Because of this, nurses and doctors would be more cautious about what to/what not to show/take you along.

My advice is that the experience was definitely made by the doctors, nurses, and residents who were there. Certain days were better than others just because of the people. It’s about making connections and being aggressive in order to take full advantage of the experience.
Overall, I found my time in the ER at California enjoyable and educational. It has made me think about entering the ER in the future.
Anonymous
2nd Semester Student
Summer 2012
——
I have been volunteering at California Hospital Medical Center in the Emergency Department liaison program for a little less than a semester. The Emergency Liaison program is very new so it has some problems. At the central nurses station, the nurses tend to do by themselves most of the work volunteers can do, and they seem hesitant to entrust duties to volunteers. When I go to shift, I usually ask at the nurses’ station if anyone needs my help, and if they do not, I tell them that I will be in the triage room. The triage nurses usually have more for me to do; they let me take patients to ED South (another part of the Emergency Department), I bring patients in to be triaged, and I get blankets for patients waiting for beds. I also do rounds of the patients’ rooms, asking if they need food, water, or things to occupy their time, like books or crayons. Tracy Nordbak, the volunteer coordinator, is really nice and seems dedicated to making the volunteering experience better for everyone. The best advice I could give to a new volunteer would be to ask for help; if Tracy does not know that the program is not very good for the volunteers, experience-wise, then it will never get better.
Anonymous
1st Semester Student
Fall 2014
——

            Overall, my experience at California Hospital this semester was very rewarding. It was a very different environment from any hospital that I have experienced. The convenience of California Hospital was very appealing to me from the beginning. However, I was intimidated by the community that California Hospital primarily serves. This is because I have never worked in an environment so dedicated to the safety of the hospital. Also, the population was very diverse. Breaking out of my bubble has helped me to gain empathy, compassion, and a deeper understanding of people. A good majority of my time at California Hospital was spent at the information desk answering phone calls from patients who needed help. About 30 minutes out of the two hours that I volunteered here each week was spent interacting with patients. In addition, I talked to many different providers (CNA’s, RN’s, medical school students, secretaries, and EMT’s) during my shifts. It is very important to be assertive and approach the staff. You can learn a lot from them, as many will give you advice, tell stories, and give you a unique perspective on the healthcare field. Some workers will be more helpful than others. In addition, it is important to gage how busy a provider is that day by observing them. It is probably best to not approach a worker who appears super busy and stressed out, as I have learned.

A con that I have personally experienced through California Hospital is that each week a different set of staff was located on my floor. Thus, I have not been able to form deep relationships with any health care providers. However, I have had the opportunity to talk to many different people because of this.

Anonymous
1st Semester Student
Fall 2014

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