For some students, a course requirement is worth more than an opportunity to earn school credit — it’s a passion.
In Health Service and Biomedical Analysis, a biology course taught by Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski, are required to volunteer at Knox Community Hospital (KCH) or with the College Township Fire Department; Slonczewski developed the course as part of the Kenyon Community Service and Outreach Program’s community experiential learning. Two students in particular, Kay Burrows ’18 and Santi Acero ’18, became so committed to their work at the hospital that after finishing the course in the fall they founded the Knox Community Hospital Volunteers, a club that takes a group of 12 Kenyon student volunteers to the hospital’s emergency room for weekly shifts.
The hospital offers an orientation, covering topics ranging from how to transport patients into and out of wheelchairs to volunteer etiquette, that students must complete before they may begin volunteering. They then meet in a weekly seminar at Kenyon to discuss topics related to their service through biological and sociological lenses.
Student volunteers at the hospital’s emergency department perform tasks such as cleaning rooms after patients leave, sterilizing equipment, chatting with patients and observing doctors’ work.
“This helps students to see things that they encounter in the community setting in healthcare — the real-life issues — and then compare that with what we know biochemically and biologically about these conditions,” Slonczewski said.
According to Slonczewski, about one or two Kenyon students volunteered at the hospital before she first taught Health Service and Biomedical Analysis in the fall 2015 semester, but 50 requested to continue volunteering after the course finished.
Last semester, Slonczewski approached Burrows during the course and asked if she would help create a group for students who wanted to continue volunteering beyond the course.
“We formed such a great relationship with KCH, and I really wanted to see that continued with Kenyon students even if the class wasn’t continuing after the semester,” Burrows said.
Before students volunteered at KCH, “The only time [the hospital] saw Kenyon students was when there were drunk kids that came in, so I think all of their past interactions with Kenyon students weren’t very positive,” Acero said. “Bringing in the volunteers let Kenyon show a new side to the hospital.”
“They were able to see a lot more of the kids who take Kenyon more seriously, who are more into the academic side of things and are genuinely interested in helping out their community while also gaining medical experience,” Acero said.
The staff engages the students in medical discussions and answers their questions, whether this involves showing them patients’ scans, researching information or entertaining other possible diagnoses. Burrows and Acero attribute the club’s success to the hospital’s enthusiastic and “amazing” staff providing them with one-on-one experiences and serving as role models.
In future semesters, Acero and Burrows want volunteer work to expand to areas of the hospital beyond the emergency room. They are talking with the supervisor of another floor in the hospital about bringing in volunteers to that section. If KCH grants them this access, the club expects to double their number of volunteers.
“I personally hope to expand the volunteers beyond the hospital,” Burrows said. “KCH absolutely needs us, but I think it’s really valuable for students to get experiences in so many different fields, like outside of the hospital in a home health care setting or just in a primary care physician’s office.”