Volunteering in a Care Home for the Elderly

Eye-opening hospital work experience
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Harry Fletcher shares his experience of gaining work experience to support his medical school application.

Helping out at the local orphanage

It seemed unlikely to me a year ago when I first started thinking about Medicine, that I would ever want to consider helping the elderly at a local care home. I thought that somehow I could skirt around the subject and apply to medical school without long-term care experience locked down. But when a careers advisor told me plainly that I needed this to show a commitment to my choice of subject, I decided that the dodging had gone on long enough, and I applied to become a regular volunteer at a care home for the elderly in my town.

The application itself was, admittedly not so straightforward. Having criminal background checks takes time, but once this had all been completed, I bravely stepped through, against a steep temperature gradient, into the old people’s home. I felt kind of out of place and nervous, but as I now know is so important in this world, sometimes you just have to put on a smile and pretend to be psyched. 

A few months on (4 months to be precise), I feel stupid for avoiding volunteering in the first place. The stigma against the elderly being boring, and care homes being pretty horrible places to volunteer is laughable in my position of some experience. The initial visit that I made was not one of the best moments of my life, I’ll admit: I found it difficult to make conversation and felt quite awkward, because I had never had to do anything like this before. But after a few weeks I had really settled into it well. A group of ladies that I now visit weekly started to talk to me, and I started to learn about how to talk to the elderly, for example when it comes to people with dementia, I learnt the importance of kindness and understanding which is necessary when it comes to them forgetting things you have been talking about- even if that was moments ago. I will admit that now I have become rather attached to the people there, and they have become attached to me. The managers always tell me how the residents talk about me when I’m not there: “I wonder if he’s coming today”, “He’s such a nice boy” and “I hope he’s not too cold on his bike tonight”. This flattery only goes to show how even if you only spend an hour there talking to one resident, you’ll have made their day and will have given them something to be happy about. Even a smile can be enough to lift the mood. 

Gap Medics students ready to observe surgery in Tanzania! I visit the care home once a week, for at least an hour, and I enjoy it a great deal. The residents have such fascinating lives, and are happy to tell you stories from their lives. One of the residents who I speak to weekly told me her story of how she was a nurse when she was younger. As it transpired she was involved in the first heart transplant surgery in the world, and here she was now, many years on, doing a jigsaw. To add to this, residents had been awarded honours for their service to the armed forces, and for their bravery in saving lives. These are the stories underneath the exterior. They’re young people at heart, and we should care.

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