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Rosemary Islava: A Mother's Powerful Hospital Volunteering Journey

As a pre-medical student, when you hear the word “volunteering”, what comes to mind? Is it reading books to children at a local library? Is it feeding the homeless at the community soup kitchen? Are you helping an organization raise money for a charity or good cause?

In the world of volunteering, there is a multitude of volunteer opportunities that you could choose from. Alternatively, with all of the possibilities at your fingertips, you may feel that you may not have much time in the world to make a decision. However, not all pre-medical students have this conflict. Although the example options above may sound like a great way to enhance your medical school application, they may not have the unique experience that you are looking for.

In particular, maybe you have been itching for experiences that involve being around medicine. You may wish to be in an environment with an exciting pace, surrounding yourself with medical staff and practitioners. You may also generalize that being in a workplace like this could help guide and prepare you for your future career as a medical practitioner.

If you can heavily relate to the description above, volunteering at a hospital may very well be your best option. Hospital volunteering can be incredibly fulfilling, even if done for a few hours per week. As a volunteer, you would be one of the necessary “cogs” of the hospital system, keeping the workplace afloat and ensuring that patients get the absolute best quality of care. In addition, the role itself could be very vast, enveloping numerous areas of the hospitals in which they could provide support. Food services, labs, administrative work, greeting and admitting of patients, and indirect means of support for specialties such as radiology and physical therapy are all areas in which a volunteer could potentially dabble into and make a difference.

It is possible that you have been looking to start hospital volunteering, but are unsure of where to start. How do you take that first step? How would you know that hospital volunteering is the right form of experience for you?

For many, their start to volunteering forms from tragic, painful experiences. Rosemary Islava, a current volunteer at the Children’s Health Orange County (CHOC) Hospital, is one such volunteer that had a traumatic experience that led to her aim for a positive impact. Her exposure to hospital life first started when her daughter Aliyah was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the young age of two. Aliyah had to undergo numerous brain surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, which prompted her to visit CHOC Hospital on a rather frequent basis. In addition to this, many of these visits had long durations of hospital stay, with one extending to seven months.

Rosemary and Aliyah

Source: Children’s Health Orange County

Throughout this period of time, Aliyah, her siblings, and Rosemary bonded with many of the staff at CHOC Hospital, including the cafeteria staff, security guards, and cleaning staff. The bonds were built upon for such a long period of time that, rather than feeling like staff, they became an extension of the family. Aliyah and Rosemary were showered with the support, care, and compassion needed for Aliyah to fight the deadly tumor.

After all of the treatments and surgeries were administered, Aliyah had a moment in which she was cancer-free. The hospital staff and family were overjoyed at the accomplishment, giving Aliyah an extension to life. With many moments in which she struggled to eat or even keep her head up, many were worried that her chances of getting through this hurdle were slim. She was able to, at least for the time being, live a normal life and childhood.

Unfortunately, Aliyah’s cancer returned when she was the age of nine years old. A truly devastating finding, surgeries, and chemotherapy were then again administered to Aliyah in the hopes of saving her life. In this instance, the cancer was all too consuming, and Aliyah passed away at the age of ten years old.

Although many may have the impression that volunteering at a hospital could be sad or gloomy, Rosemary ensures that that is not the case. In fact, for most of her time as both the parent of a patient and as a volunteer, she has experienced the opposite of that claim. Through her daughter’s passing, Aliyah has left behind a group of outstanding CHOC staff, all of whom aim to continue Rosemary through all of her endeavors. Many of the staff even spoke during her memorial service, paying their respects and reminding others about the many happy experiences shared at CHOC. In the hospital, Rosemary not only went through grief but also went through plentiful moments of happiness and gratitude. She hopes that as a volunteer for CHOC Hospital, she will be able to give back and support other families in crisis.

Islava’s experience really shows that through inspiration, the compassion of others, and eagerness to continue building relationships with hospital staff, she was able to keep her heart full as a hospital volunteer. To start your journey as a hospital volunteer, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What inspires you to become a hospital volunteer?

  • Is there a medical experience that you or someone you care about shared within a hospital setting?

  • Does volunteer work focusing on helping others through illness, grief, or stress bring a sense of fulfillment?

  • Do you want to give back to your community through the hospital setting, even if you’re not in a role to provide direct medical procedures?

Once these questions have been answered, you may find that you need to reflect more to arrive at the conclusion that you desire. That is perfectly okay. Although the application and acceptance process for medical school is rigorous, you have the power to choose how you wish to help others. In this route, there is no question that you will do great things for others, and the pre-medical stance is a sure indicator of igniting that positive change in the world.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you find this article as impactful as I have.

- Ashlyn Southerland


Good Samaritan Medical Center: Palm Beach Health Network. (n.d.). Volunteer Position Description.

Islava, Rosemary. (2019, November 6). Giving back through volunteering at CHOC: Rosemary’s story. Children’s Health Orange County.


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