My Experience as a Volunteer in the Medical Facility

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I hastily made my way to Benjamin’s room after hearing ear-piercing screams coming from his room. Seeing him sitting on the floor and crying inconsolably, with a broken toy car at the other end of the room, I instantly pieced the parts together and knew that my cousin, who was on the autism spectrum, was having yet another meltdown. Taking his hands in mine, I held them tightly, hoping to make things more bearable for him. After some time, his breathing became more levelled and his lips tilted to reveal a small smile. My silent gesture seemed to confer my comfort, encouragement and support for him.

Over the years, I developed many meaningful relationships with individuals from all walks of life, be it interacting with the people around me or through my volunteer work. As a member of my school’s Peer Helpers Programme (PHP) and Red Cross Youth Chapter (RCYC), working with my schoolmates and the elderly have challenged me to step out of my comfort zone to become a more understanding and compassionate individual. Although Benjamin was not able to control his tamper or express his thoughts effectively and I did not have an immediate solution to his problems, I felt blessed to be able to comfort him with my presence. Though intangible, these small victories, such as the support I offered Benjamin, were of great personal meaning. Likewise, the field of medicine encapsulates more than merely having a good grasp of tangible entities such as the human anatomy or the science of diseases and their respective treatments – to be an outstanding physician requires one to be empathetic, curious, observant and most importantly, have the ability to draw connections between past experiences and apply them to new scenarios. I believe these are skills, which I have developed through my past experiences in volunteering and shadowing dedicated physicians.

Growing up, I also spent quite a lot of time with my aunt who has schizophrenia, who was a reason that motivated me to join PHP, so that I could better communicate and relate to her. Occasionally, our conversation could go something like this, “ ah yi (aunt), do you want something to drink?”, “don’t drink, they are coming for us”. Those are the times when I realised that she was having yet another episode of delusions and hallucinations. Her hand would start to break in cold sweat and she would grab my hands tightly. I would comfort her and hug her and after a while the voices in her ears would stop ringing. As she lives with my grandma, we would visit regularly to ensure that she has been taking her medication. Knowing how it feels like to be accountable to someone who believes in you completely and maintaining this trust is something that I have understood while being with my aunt and I feel that this is also crucial in the medical field when creating a conducive environment for patient-doctor relationship to grow and for the bond to strengthen so that the best could be provided for the patient.

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The beauty of medicine is that it’s a fusion of both an art and a science. My experience as a volunteer at National Kidney Foundation dialysis centre (NKF) and starting a student initiated community project at Ren Ci nursing home cultivated my passion for medicine; I discovered that brightening the days of the elderly patients required more than simple donations or organising activities. Rather, I was only able truly liven up their moods when I sought to connect to them by putting myself in their shoes and empathising with them the fears and emotions that they were going through. One elderly lady, whom we affectionately addressed as “ah ma”, had a rather crotchety and unfriendly temperament during our initial volunteering sessions at the centre. Despite her rather unenthusiastic response to our efforts, I never once lost faith but instead, strongly held on to the believe that with time and determination, she will be touched by our efforts and eventually warm up to us. On my 4th session at the centre, ah ma finally opened up to us and shared with us some of the woes that she was facing, such as her children’s unfilial actions. Understanding that her grumpiness, frustration and hostility stemmed from pent up disappointment of her children, I tried my best to cheer her up through employing the counselling tips that I had picked up from my school’s PHP and at the same time, offer a listening ear to her. As the weeks past, I noticed that ah ma seemed to become less grumpy and when she finally let out a full grin, I felt as if I had just strike the jackpot. That smile meant so much: it was a tangible result of ah ma’s happy feeling, but it was also a symbol of the bond and friendship that we had forged through empathy.

“We are going to have quite a lot of people streaming in in about an hour so I would like the three of you to ensure that there are enough chairs for the donors …” I directed my team as we were preparing for the biannual blood drive. Through taking on many different leadership positions over the years and the various events that I organised, I have grown as a person, leader and team player. As the saying goes, “a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link”. My leadership experiences were also reflective of the teamwork I witnessed during my attachment at the General Surgery department NUH and SGH. An incident that left a deep impression was when I had shadowed the doctor for trauma activation at NTFGH. Seeing the doctor rush over from NUH and doing their best in the emergency unit, seeing how the team of doctors and nurses did not give up on the seventeen year old girl, who had gotten into a road accident and traumatic arrest, by continuing CPR and doing whatever they could for 45 minutes before she was declared dead was really heartening. The determination to give it their all to do what they can for the patient is commendable. It also made me reflect how fleeting life is and that we should really appreciate the little things in life and treasure every moment with our loved ones.

While science forms the fundamental basis of medicine, a core part of the medical field is also about people management. Humans are unique creatures- everyone has their own set of fears, worries and concerns. Hence, they require observant, empathetic and inquisitive physicians who will constantly question the routines of medicine. They deserve doctors who are willing to take on the challenge of brainstorming individualised solutions to their unique challenges. I strive to be that physician who is able to incorporate my past experiences, strengths and skills to each unique case to provide personalised care for those under my charge.   

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