Biotech Students Enriched By Volunteering With the Elderly
A group of biotechnology master’s degree students have started what they hope becomes a new tradition: volunteering in the nursing home right next door to the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus.
Approximately 20 students in the post-baccalaureate Health Science Intensive (HSI) program will participate. The students started volunteering in November, helping residents of Shady Grove Center – Genesis Health Care make a turkey craft. They returned in December to help residents make a wreath out of green foam and red and green stickers and bells. They also helped residents decorate sugar cookies. An HSI student played a vigorous game of Wii bowling with residents less interested in cookies and crafts.
The HSI program is based at the JHU Montgomery County Campus. The idea behind the program is to give students the opportunity to enroll in rigorous courses in the life sciences to prove their aptitude to study medicine. The hope is that after completing HSI, students will be more attractive medical school candidates. HSI students earn the Master of Science in Biotechnology degree.
HSI professors and advisers encourage students to serve the community.
“We do not want to wait until we are doctors to change the world,” said Cyntia Pedro, one of the HSI students leading the initiative. “As much as we bring light to the elderly we visit, they are the ones who truly illuminate our lives.”
For now, the students visit the facility once a month, but they expect to soon increase the frequency of their visits. They are looking forward to painting residents’ nails, doing more crafts and simply talking to them about their lives.
On a recent visit, students talked to the residents about their graduate student work and drew comparisons between dorm living and nursing home living. The residents clearly enjoyed the conversations.
HSI student Eric You said he has “a soft spot for old people.” Volunteering at Genesis “is a great way to show care. As a physician you need to show empathy to patients. Volunteering helps me build people skills.”
Recreation Director Kayla Kitchmaster said she appreciates the students’ help.
“I cannot tell you how much this means to us,” Kitchmaster said. “I am the only one working in my department today, and crafts and cookies are always a big task for one person.”
Added Pedro: “The nursing home residents are all unique and have great stories that enrich and humor us. When student life gets hectic, sometimes you just need a good conversation and hug. The residents have more than enough love to share with us all.”