I recently changed jobs and started doing administrative work at a hospital in town. Not having any prior experience working with patients in a healthcare setting, I hadn’t much considered that most of the people I would be encountering each day would be, of course, sick. My clinic sees many different types of patients; people old and young, professionals and retirees, and even young children and babies. These people often have been given devastating diagnoses. Even in more benign circumstances, each person who comes to see our doctors and surgeons have had their lives impacted in some major way, and are desperate for help and relief.
So far I have been struck by how many times during the day I use skills that I learned because of the training and experience I received as a CASA volunteer. I would have been completely lost if not for some of the most basic skills that I was frequently tested on during my case. Sometimes it’s maintaining professionalism in the face of bad behavior–a bad prognosis is, in some ways, similar to what a lot of our kids and families experience when they are involved in the family court system. Unsurprisingly many of the patients that come to the clinic are not happy to be there, not happy to see me, to fill out paperwork, to be charged money, to be reminded that they are sick. I have to remind myself often that they are not upset with me, and even if they were, there are many, many reasons why they may feel that way.
Other times it is being able to feel empathy for those who are in drastic circumstances that are possibly untranslatable to my own life. It has been a test in providing encouragement, both for myself and others, and a test on separating my personal life from my working (or volunteering) one. You do not need to know the whole story to be able to see that someone is having a bad day, or how to make it better. Simply being there, being open and friendly, offering help, and a listening ear can make an incredible impact. I’ve learned that meeting others where they are, rather than having cookie-cutter expectations of how each person should act, shows them that you are flexible and can be a valuable asset working in their best interest.
It’s also a test of the strength of my rapport-building; my clinic is a team, much like the teams we work with as CASAs, filled with confused families, strong-willed professionals, and fellow clinic administrative staff, who all share the goal of providing care for the patients who seek assistance and supporting the mission of the hospital. Each person is not obligated to be my ally; in many ways it may benefit them to do otherwise, particularly when, at least in their belief, standing up for their own interests may be the easier route to follow. But by encouraging a collaborative and friendly relationship, the experience is improved for everyone, and accountability is increased due to more communication and openness. That collaboration and rapport building factor was absolutely instrumental to my work as a CASA volunteer; it’s shown itself to be instrumental in making my professional life easier and more fulfilling as well.
I like to think that these are skills which come easy to those who care about the people in need around us, and can be achieved by anybody with the motivation and openness in their hearts to learn. Volunteering has brought that out in me. I never would have imagined myself striving so hard to make others happy, or at least more comfortable. In fact, I have always had a tendency to faint when presented with difficult medical imagery or information, and up until my first day on the job underestimated how much I would be tested on that point. But the power of the will to help others is unfathomably strong, and I seem to have completely overcome that problem, or at least I have when I have a job to do. It was much the same when faced with a teenager so hopelessly lost and unable to control her own life. At first, for a short time, it was enough to make me break down and ask myself sometimes if I would be strong enough to handle it, but when I found that my encouragement really meant something, I discovered that I could. Despite not being able to understand, and the extreme sadness and empathy I was feeling for her, I was able to encourage her.
If you have any questions, comments, ideas for future posts or resources for CASA youth or volunteers for Jesse, please email her at [email protected]