Even as a child, Poonam Deol knew she wanted to work in health care. “I believe everyone deserves to have better health,” Poonam says, “I want to be a part of making that possible however I can.”
As a volunteer at Langley Memorial Hospital, Poonam leads the VolunTEEN program, a program that gives students aged 16 to 18 the opportunity to provide support to patients, residents and visitors in select Fraser Health hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Poonam began volunteering with the program six years ago while she was a high school student. “I’ve always been a people person,” Poonam says, “I love listening, getting to know people’s stories and helping them.” Over the years, even as a full-time university student, Poonam has spent more than 500 hours visiting with patients, providing way finding guidance, volunteering at the thrift shop and helping orient other volunteers. “The experience you get as a volunteer is so unique and valuable,” she says. “At school and at work you tend to only meet a limited number of people, but through volunteering you get to meet people from across the spectrum of ages, backgrounds and jobs.”
In 2017, she became the leader liaison for the VolunTEEN program. She now plays an active role in the daily operations by acting as the primary liaison with team leaders. In addition to revamping and leading the orientation process for other VolunTEENs, she has taken the initiative to foster a student-led culture for the program, supporting other volunteers to take on leadership roles.
Even in the midst of the busy health care environment, Poonam is quick to notice when someone needs assistance, and even quicker to take action. “Poonam is beyond reliable, extremely hard-working and responsible. She is a role model for other volunteers,” says Alita Stoelers, site operations manager at Langley Memorial Hospital.
Other volunteers she works with also notice and appreciate how she goes above and beyond. “Poonam isn’t required to attend the volunteer shifts she is not scheduled for, however she does this because she wants to make sure everyone is doing well,” says Navindi De Silva, a student volunteer and the person who nominated Poonam for the award. “She comes to each shift thirty minutes early to help raise any issues that may have come up to the manager in order to help the shift go smoothly and she attends many additional meetings even though she’s a busy student.”
“She has truly helped individuals learn about patient care and the importance of tending to others in need of help,” Navindi continues. “She has displayed great leadership and service and has inspired many teens, including me.”
When asked about her dedication to the VolunTEEN program, Poonam’s enthusiasm is hard to miss. “Teenagers can bring such special and positive energy into environments like the hospital and long-term care,” she says. “Many times patients feel isolated and down, so having volunteers come and take the time to listen and interact with them, and bring that energy from the outside in is so important.”
Poonam is currently finishing her Bachelor of Science degree at Simon Fraser University in Health Sciences. “When I graduate, I want to do both medical school and a Masters of Public Health program,” she says. “You only live once, why not make an impact?”
She is the recipient of this year’s Above and Beyond Service Delivery Excellence Award.