Dr. Tiffany Richason was among Sky Ridge Medical Center's first volunteers. A little more than 10 years later, she's back — working there as a physician and mentoring young women who may follow her path.
“It's really fun for me to be able to kind of be on the reciprocating end and hopefully be an inspiration to others,” said Richason, an obstetrician and gynecologist. “That was me a few years ago. I really appreciated the doctors who didn't brush me aside.”
Richason is among hundreds of younger people who've participated in the Lone Tree hospital's volunteer program — an opportunity that's become highly coveted and competitive among area high school students.
The approximately 50 volunteers selected each year typically are high-performing students from Douglas County, Cherry Creek and Littleton school districts who often volunteer there throughout their high school years.
While the hours apply to the students' required community service, most hope to devote their lives to the medical field.
Because many high school students don't know the layers of responsibility within a hospital, volunteering at Sky Ridge can open the doors of possibility.
“Sometimes students have a perception it's (working as) a doctor or a nurse,” Sky Ridge spokeswoman Linda Watson said. “The health care arena is complex and changing. We showcase to kids the real magnitude of options.”
Sky Ridge employees include chefs, nutritionists, pharmacists and computer technicians, with entire divisions dedicated to finances, human resources and physician relations.
“For someone who's not sure, this gives them a really broad experience,” volunteer services director John Penn said. “What I'm hoping is they find their passion, that this will catapult them into their careers.”
Lizzie Stephani, a senior at Arapahoe High School, began volunteering the summer after her freshman year. Primarily interested in obstetrics and gynecology, she was one of the first volunteers accepted in labor and deliver. She's witnessed cesarean sections, vaginal deliveries and robotic hysterectomies, often working with Richason.
She now is a volunteer trainer for the hospital's emergency.
The exposure has narrowed her career focus. Stephani believes she wants to become a surgeon working in women's services.
“I'm still 17,” she said. “There are still a lot of years ahead, so I'm trying to be open minded.”
Rock Canyon High School junior Lauren Yehle also has advanced to become a volunteer trainer. Her goal is to help improve Sky Ridge's already high patient care ratings, also known as HCAHPS. The ratings are based on items both large and small, including ambient noise and call response times. Yehle and her fellow volunteers often can fulfill small requests — filling a glass of water, opening blinds or simply talking to a patient — saving the nurses' time.
As a result, Yehle spends concentrated time with patients, some of whom are far from family and friends. Some seek an open ear, others offer career and life advice.
“Almost every day I'll come home and reflect on some of the conversations I've had,” she said. “It's almost like a mortality check.”
Yehle also isn't yet certain which aspect of medicine she'll pursue. But her decision to work in the medical field was sealed the day she sat with an older woman who reminisced about her father and cried.
“I was doing nothing but holding this woman's hand and I was making a difference,” she said. “I want that aspect of patient care and contact.”