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Volunteer Services pivots during pandemic with virtual career panels

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, departments across Yale New Haven Health System pivoted to find new ways to provide services. Yale New Haven Hospital’s Volunteer Services Department was no exception. 

YNHH has one of the first organized hospital volunteer programs in the country, with volunteers playing an integral role at the hospital since 1933. In a typical year, thousands of volunteers give their time and impact in nearly every area of the hospital to enrich the experiences of patients and their families, employees and many community partners.

These volunteers include more than 350 high school students who work alongside YNHH employees during the summer or throughout the academic year. A vital component of the program for high school students is the opportunity to experience a variety of healthcare roles, which provides insights into careers. When visitor restrictions implemented early in the pandemic halted the volunteer programs, Volunteer Services staff searched for a way to continue providing this resource to local students.  

“Volunteering in person is a valuable experience, but we wanted to come up with a way to continue to offer information about careers in health care even when students couldn’t be here,” said Michael Iserson, YNHH Volunteer Services program assistant.  

Working with staff from various departments, Iserson created a virtual “Careers in Health Care” webinar series. The hourlong Zoom presentations feature rotating panels of employees from clinical and non-clinical roles throughout the hospital. Some of the careers require a college degree; others do not. Fields represented include pharmacy, physical therapy, nutrition/dietetics, medicine (physician and registered nurse), human resources, marketing and communications, laboratory, social work, business administration and patient experience and guest services. During each presentation, panelists discuss personal and academic challenges they have faced in pursuing their professional objectives. Students are invited to submit questions through the chat feature. 

The Careers in Health Care webinars launched in September 2021 with YNHH staff. As the webinar series expanded, employees from all delivery networks across the health system participated. So far, seven presentations featuring more than 30 staff have been offered to more than 100 local high schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. Each panel is recorded; video links are provided to guidance counselors for future viewings.

“The staff members on each panel take pride in sharing their stories and give authentic examples of the excitement that a hospital environment provides,” said Eileen Hanson, manager, YNHH Volunteer Services. “I was also personally delighted to learn that volunteering had played a significant role in guiding many of the panelists toward their own career choices. That is valuable insight to share with the high school students.” 

The virtual panels have been a success, according to Iserson, who estimates that hundreds of local students have participated in the series so far. An additional webinar featuring clinical staff only was provided upon request at Albertus Magnus College after a career counselor there heard about the program and thought it would offer insight to nursing students.  

“The presentations are designed to educate and inform, and we are delighted that the panels have received widespread recognition and appreciation,” said Iserson. “While we are excited that the in-person high school volunteer program will resume this year, we are thankful for the opportunity to continue serving as a resource to the community, even during the midst of the pandemic.”