TUH interns learn patient empathy

The internship program employs more than 80 students, who work closely with patients.

SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS John Nguyen (left) and Joyce Cheng (right) work with Andrea Quartey (center) at the guest relations desk at Temple University Hospital on Feb. 9. The three students are a part of the At Your Service Volunteer Intern Program at TUH. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

With troubling health issues, Joyce Cheng has been a patient at multiple medical care facilities.

While there, observing the staff helped her understand what makes a good team — preparing her to help patients at Temple University Hospital herself.

“I’ve had health issues that have truly shown me what a difference a good team of physicians can make in a patient’s life,” said Cheng, a senior biology major who is on the pre-med track. “I am hoping to improve someone else’s life in the same way.”

Cheng is one of more than 80 student interns in the At Your Service Volunteer Intern Program at Temple University Hospital. The program allows undergraduate students interested in health care to work closely with patients through non-clinical work in the hospital’s inpatient and outpatient units. The students act as a companion and relieve the patients from the stress that often comes from medical procedures.

Interns spend one-on-one time with TUH patients during their stay, visiting their rooms and talking to them. Interns use a question list to help them get to know patients. The questions are about topics like family members, careers and hobbies.

“Any time you go into a patient’s room, some of them are tired and don’t really want to talk but others want to tell you everything,” Cheng said.

Students then create a poster with this information and put it near the patient’s bedside for hospital personnel to better understand the patient.

Leah Kellar, TUH’s supervisor of patient experience, started the program in Summer 2014 to provide meaningful internships for pre-health undergraduate students.

She also wanted a low-cost program for TUH that could enhance the experience of patients and their families while improving their perceptions of staff responsiveness.

Danielle London, the supervisor of patient and family engagement at Temple University Health System, works closely with student interns. She said her favorite part of the job is when the hospital is able to exceed the patients’ and their families’ expectations.

“We see the nurses, the [physical therapists], technicians all working together. It is one big conjoined effort.”

“I have the privilege of often being able to visit patients and families and make personal connections with them,” London said. “Even just walking the hallways, I am able to assist and answer questions or help people find their way around the building. I find that it’s often the little things that can make a big impact.”

The intern program is open to any interested students. John Nguyen, a senior kinesiology major, started the internship in October 2017. After graduation, he hopes to become a physician’s assistant.

Nguyen said he enjoys working with medical professionals in several different units of the hospital.

“I’ve gained an understanding of how the hospital works all together and how to understand different specialties and how everyone works as a cohesive unit,” Nguyen said. “I wanted to get my foot in the door in the medical field in general and service industry. This is my first foot in the door of anything hospital related.”

Cheng, who began the internship as a freshman, has come back each year because she loves helping the patients.

“When you talk to patients, you really start to understand what service is,” Cheng said. “It’s not always just medication.”

She added that the program gave her a realistic vision for her future career in medicine.

“It impacts the way I view health care because…first of all, we all work together, and, second of all, you are able to see how everything is connected,” Cheng said. “We see the nurses, the [physical therapists,] technicians, all working together. It is one big conjoined effort.”

For Cheng and Nguyen, the program has taught them how to connect with a patient, which they’ll use in their future careers.

“When you speak to some of the patients, it seems to brighten up their day a little more,” Nguyen said. “They probably feel a little nervous because the doctor is always talking about something negative.”

“This program teaches you how to act less like a robot and interact and understand people more in-depth,” Nguyen added.

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