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2013 NSNA/NURSING SPECTRUM/NURSEWEEK ESSAY CONTEST GRAND PRIZE WINNER
 
Julia Camp of California State University-Sacramento, Sacramento, CA, won the Essay Contest Grand Prize, which will be presented at NSNA's 61st Annual Convention, April 3-7, 2013, in Charlotte, NC. Students were asked to respond to the question “How do you think a future role in volunteerism might make a difference in your nursing career?” Ms. Camp won a $500 gift check, complimentary registration to the Convention and the winning essay published online at www.nsna.org.
 


Growing as a Professional: Your Future in Volunteerism and Service
 
By Julia Camp

Volunteering is what led me to my path into nursing. It has always been central to me and I have volunteered off and on since I was 13 years old. I have continued to volunteer while attending nursing school through NSNA, activities as well as with a local disaster preparedness organization. I enjoy being part of a group that works to improve things for others. Volunteering has provided me with opportunities to grow, improve myself and make a difference in someone else’s life as well as my own. In my career as a nurse, I want and need to continue to have these experiences and I believe that it will make me a better nurse.
 
Volunteering helps to make connections. Several years ago I was a volunteer with the Junior League of San Francisco and there are two things that strongly stand out in my mind from those experiences. First, it was where I had met one of my closest friends – we met picking up garbage in Golden Gate Park on Earth Day. I am no longer involved with Junior League, but my friend and I have remained very close and I will always credit my volunteerism for our introduction. Second, I participated in an event where we assisted eighth grade students from a local charter school to write an admission essay for high school. The student I worked with was shy and insecure, but she was driven and it was so easy to cheer her on and help her to write the essay. We were encouraged to exchange emails at the end of the day so that we could continue to mentor our student via email. The student and I exchanged emails but it never occurred to me that I might hear from her. However, we ended up keeping in touch for several years after that and I was able to hear about her progress through high school. It always amazed me that I had made such an impact on her as I had only worked with her for a few hours. But those few hours were enough. Both of these experiences were about forming connections which is also part of nursing. The more I can find ways to connect with others, the better nurse I can be.
 
In nursing it is also extremely important to continually increase your knowledge. Volunteerism can be one of the best teachers. I volunteered prior to nursing school to determine if nursing was where I wanted to be. I spent time at a local hospital as a doula and also spent a month in Ecuador observing and assisting in local hospitals and clinics. Both experiences increased my knowledge in different ways. My work as a doula allowed me to see what it was like on a nursing unit and my time in Ecuador allowed me to get a glimpse of what it is like to experience medical care when you don’t speak the language in which the care is being delivered. This gave me a completely new perspective when I returned to my doula role and worked with patients whose primary language was not English. I now work hard to advocate for using an interpreter as the patient may not always let us know how much English is understood. More recently, I have been working with our county’s Medical Reserve Corps which functions in a disaster relief role. I took part in a statewide emergency drill where we played out a scenario in which patients were transferred in from another county due to an earthquake damaging those hospitals. Here we ran through setting up an alternative care site, triaging patients, transferring patients from planes to ambulances and finally to the hospital that would admit them. Sitting through an informational meeting prior to the event allowed me to think about what we needed, but it wasn’t until we ran through the event that I started to see the intricacies and the logistics that still needed to be accounted for. These experiences strengthen my knowledge as a nurse. The next time I participate in a drill, or an actual event, I will have a better idea of what I need to do and think about as well as what it may be like for patients who don’t speak English as their first language and may have been separated from their family. These experiences provide me with skills that I learned outside of my nursing school experience, but are still very important in my role as a nurse. 
 
Finally, I will continue to volunteer because of what it gives me. I provided massage to hospice patients a few years ago. I had been uncertain going into it as I had no idea what it would be like working with patients who were actively dying. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I came out of it feeling extremely rejuvenated. What I have learned over and over is that giving my time and self gives back tenfold of what I give. I want to be able to bring that feeling with me as I work with patients. 
 
There are many other stories that I could tell that have helped to convince me of the value of volunteering. My desire to serve others and help out with humanitarian aid motivated me to apply to join the Navy Nurse Corps upon graduation. On one hand, my job in the Navy will allow me to help others and play a similar role to many of my volunteer experiences, but I know that I will continue to volunteer; it is who I am. I want those learning opportunities that allow me to see something a little different than what I see in the hospital because I believe they provide balance for what I do. In fact, I already have potential organizations picked out. I know that these experiences provide me with the tools to be the best nurse that I can.