Hannah Pounds, a senior at Houston High School, distributes fresh linens as part of her volunteer duties as a TCMH youth ambassador.

The youth ambassadors program at Texas County Memorial Hospital has been active for only one month, but the 44 ambassadors involved have contributed more than 282 hours of volunteer service.

The youth ambassadors program, which began Dec. 9, was dreamed up by Toni McKinney, registration director at TCMH and the liaison with the TCMH Auxiliary.

“There is a tremendous need for area youth to obtain training in healthcare and to return to their communities to work in healthcare,” McKinney said.

McKinney works with the youth ambassadors to do hospital volunteer work in many departments, especially those that provide direct patient care such as the obstetrics and medical surgical departments.

The TCMH youth ambassadors include young adults from Texas County and Mountain Grove, and the program is limited to area college students and high school juniors and seniors. Members of the current program were selected through an application process.

Wes Murray, chief executive officer at TCMH, is glad to see that the ambassadors have a large interest and high energy level for the program.

“I have noticed that the students involved in this program have respect for healthcare and have a respectful disposition about the work they do in the hospital,” Murray said.

Victoria Thompson of Mountain Grove has seen two babies delivered since volunteering at TCMH.

“I can definitely see myself working in the medical field,” she said.

Lilly Neal of Licking explained that volunteering at TCMH has “finalized my decision to pursue a career in healthcare.”

In the hospital’s obstetrics’ department, youth ambassadors rock babies, greet patients and visitors, answer the phone, take messages, respond to call lights and check on patients to provide water or juice.

“My staff loves them,” said Belynda Boyd, obstetrics director. “They help us take care of the little things that make a patient’s experience even more special.”

Ambassadors typically volunteer in the late afternoon and evening during the week and throughout the day and early evening on Saturday and Sunday.

Boyd and Krista Elliott, medical surgical department director, have had a volunteer from the program in their department almost every day since the youth began volunteering.

In the hospital’s medical surgical department, the volunteers pass out ice and linens, round on the patients to see if there are any special needs and simply sit and talk with the patients.

“The youth ambassadors are a great help to the nurses and to the patients,” Elliott said. “We really miss them when they are not here.”

Murray said the group was the workforce of tomorrow. He noted that TCMH is one of the largest employers in Texas County.

“All forecasts point toward growth in the healthcare field, and when combined with the challenge of getting good healthcare employees and keeping them working in a rural area means that we have a great opportunity to bring students into our workplace while they are still thinking about future careers,” Murray said. “Today’s youth are thinking about careers, and this helps provide some guidance for them.”

Murray believes that many of the ambassadors are receiving their first education about what goes on behind the doors of their county hospital.

“Many people never fully realize what we do here on a daily basis,” he said.

Samantha Jones of Houston said that she “didn’t want to leave” after doing her volunteer time as a youth ambassador.

Murray and McKinney agree that the youth ambassadors are able to provide more services to the hospital departments and to patients than fully imagined at the beginning of the program.

“We are just now beginning to appreciate how much help we can get from these students,” Murray said.

All volunteers went through an orientation and committed to volunteering at TCMH for four hours each month upon acceptance to the program. The program includes three levels of volunteer achievement – healthcare survivor, TCMH idol and amazing ambassador-and the levels can be achieved based on volunteer hours and work ethic.

For additional information about the program, McKinney can be reached at 417-967-1346 or 866-967-3311, ext. 346, or via e-mail at tmckinney@tcmh.org.

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