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Giving the gift of time

OHSU volunteers make a difference in countless ways
OHSU Volunteers
Carol Markt (left) picks up Huck Finn from the bedside of Orick Wagner, 12, as Tharika Boonpha (center) looks on, April 20, 2017. Markt has been volunteering at OHSU for over 20 years. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

What difference can a few hours make? At OHSU, the answer is a lot.

More than 1,400 individuals currently volunteer their time in support of OHSU’s health care, education and research missions. 

The majority of volunteers work in the hospitals and clinics. In 2016, more than 1,500 volunteers donated 103,711 hours of service. Volunteers receive extensive training and background checks and must commit to at least six months of service. Based on their interests, skills and experience, volunteers are giving assignments ranging from wayfinding to holding premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“Volunteers do the little things that truly enhance the patient experience,” says Joshua Beebe, OHSU Supervisor of Heath Care Volunteer Services.

About 800 volunteers work in OHSU research, education and central services, gathering data or helping with clinical and basic science research. Many are graduate students getting hands-on experience that will help them reach their career goals.

“Research really lives and dies by grants. Having volunteers enables us to get more research done so we can secure the needed funding,” says Amber Bruner, program manager, OHSU Office of Visitors and Volunteers.

Read the profiles of five amazing volunteers below.

Click here for more information on volunteer opportunities at OHSU.


Nicole Charpentier, 35

Started volunteering: September 2015

Hours donated: 1,279.46

OHSU Volunteers
Nicole Charpentier typically volunteers 25 hours a week, spending the majority of her time in the ICU waiting room. "I love it. It's stressful sometimes when families are going through things, but this is where I'm meant to be." (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

“I was a Doernbecher’s kid, so I’m giving back to OHSU,” says Nicole Charpentier.

Charpentier was born three months premature with cerebral palsy. She’s had a lifetime of medical appointments at OHSU — her entire medical team is located there — so volunteering at OHSU is something she is passionate about. 

“I’m helping the people and giving back to the hospital that helped me. Without them I wouldn’t be here,” says Charpentier.

Volunteers at OHSU can work a maximum 25 hours a week, and Charpentier consistently reaches that threshold, working five to six shifts per week. “I’d rather do something and keep productive than sit at home and do nothing. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

She splits her time between two volunteer assignments. Sometimes she works as a guide to help people navigate the hospital maze. Most frequently she works in the waiting room where she answers phones and supports people who have loved ones in the medical, neuro and cardiac intensive care units.

“I love it. It’s stressful sometimes when families are going through things, but this is where I’m meant to be.”

Tom Cave, 66

Started volunteering: December 2015

Hours donated: 275.38

OHSU Volunteers
Tom Cave chats with a colleague during his shift on the general surgery unit at OHSU, April 17, 2017. Cave has donated 275 hours, working as the "Goodnight Program Volunteer," finding ways to help patients feel more comfortable and get better rest. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Tom Cave moves briskly down the darkened hallways of 14C, the general surgery unit at OHSU, a toothbrush in hand. As the “Goodnight Program Volunteer,” his job is to help patients get the best sleep possible during their hospital stay. On this night, a toothbrush and toothpaste were what the patient needed to settle for the night.

Cave has been volunteering on this floor for more than a year now, helping to launch the new service that has proved to be popular as well as beneficial. On patient satisfaction surveys, those who had the “goodnight service” reported better sleep at than those who didn't.

Once a week, Cave works a four-hour night shift on 14C, talking with each patient and helping the nurses. Tonight he clears dinner trays, applies lotion to one man’s legs, hands out countless cups of water, is called on to help feed a patient, takes out garbage, finds a wheelchair and hands out eye masks and headphones — all within the first hour of his shift.

Sometimes people just want a friendly person to sit and talk with them, and Cave is there for that too.

He was motivated to volunteer after learning of the need from his son and daughter-in-law, both physicians at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Cave's wife is a volunteer as well, working a 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift at OHSU Doernbecher.

Cave says his volunteer position is rewarding and enjoyable. “At this point, I’ve done it for over a year so I know the staff and like them. I like meeting new people, and there is a real variety of people on this floor.”

Yuni Choi, 26 

Started volunteering: April 2016

Hours donated: 612.43

OHSU Volunteers
Yuni Choi volunteers about 12 hours a week, collecting data for the ADHD research study. She says her volunteer experience has been very valuable to her and helped her figure out her next career steps. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

“I’m trying to discover what I would like to do next,” says Yuni Choi, a research volunteer for the ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) research study. She gives a shy smile and explains that following graduation from Cornell University with a degree in Human Biology, Health and Society, she wasn’t exactly sure what her next steps would be.

Choi decided to return to Portland, where she grew up, and began volunteering for the ADHD research study.

Choi works two shifts a week, collecting data critical to the continuation of the research project. In four-hour blocks, she administers psychological tests (IQ and achievement tests) as well as cognitive and physiological tests for children aged 12 to 17 who are participating in the study.

In addition to conducting the evaluations, Choi says she’s learned research protocols, received informal clinical supervision by discussing cases in a group setting with a licensed psychologist and had excellent mentorship.

 “You do get education,” says Choi. “And you get the sense that you are contributing to something greater.”

Choi’s says of her experience: “Being here has kind of solidified what I would like to do next. You get to find your own niche in the process. In that way, it’s been really, really valuable to me.”

Choi now is considering a career in clinical psychology.

Click here for more information on the ADHD research study.

Carol Markt, 72

Started volunteering: March 1993

Hours donated: 2,360

OHSU Volunteers
Carol Markt has been volunteering at OHSU for over 20 years. She and her cat Huck Finn are one of 20 pet assisted therapy teams working at the hospital. She and Huck bring a smile to patient Orick Wagner, 12, as they make their rounds, April 20, 2017. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

When Carol Markt started volunteering at OHSU Doernbecher in 1993, she couldn’t have imagined she’d still be doing it more than 20 years later.

“I just love it here,” says Markt. “I love the work. I love the people. I love what we’re trying to do. So I stayed.”

Markt spends one morning a week volunteering with her pet therapy cat, Huck Finn. They are one of 20 pet assisted therapy teams currently volunteering at OHSU.

“We go from room to room and try to take patients away from what they’re here for. We try to distract and comfort and whatever we can do to make their time better,” Markt says.

Seeing a giant furry cat riding atop a wheeled cart through the hospital hallways is definitely a distraction. It is unusual for a cat to do pet therapy work, says Markt, but Huck Finn seems to take it all in stride.

During a recent visit, Markt rolled Huck Finn into Orick Wagner’s room. The child’s face lit up as Markt placed the 15-pound cat on his bed. Orick, 12, buried his face into Huck’s soft fur, his hand gently stroking the cat.

Markt watched with a smile on her face.

“People tell me that they don’t see how I can stand to be around all of these kids that are in such compromised states of health,” Markt said later, “but to me, making them feel better and taking them out of their situation, even for a brief moment, brings a lot of gratification. It’s a pretty good feeling.”

Johnson Vo, 24

Started volunteering: October 2015

Hours donated: 998.15

OHSU Volunteers
Volunteer Johnson Vo looks over a fenestrated endovascular stent graft model, used in endovascular aneurysm repairs. Vo is currently volunteering as he is in the application process for medical school, and gaining experience that he says has been "a very rewarding experience." (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

“When I die I want to be able to say that I made a difference,” says Johnson Vo, a research volunteer in the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute Aortic Program.

He believes volunteering, in part, is a way to do that.

“It might be small, but you need to start somewhere,” he laughs.

Vo’s contributions to the program are nowhere near small. He donates about 20 hours a week, spending much of his time maintaining the Vascular Quality Initiative, a data collaborative for 12 major vascular procedures. Vo contacts patients post-operatively to gather information about post-procedural outcomes, and assists with training sessions for operation room staff that work on endovascular repair of aortic aneurysms.

Vo is currently applying to medical schools. He began volunteering as a way to gain more exposure to research and the hospital environment.

“I believe in my experience so far it has greatly improved my skill set, my social skills. It’s a very rewarding experience.”


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