'I knew I wanted to be a nurse': Volunteering fuels calling for recent grad

Leslie H., 23, began volunteering at Salem Health when she was just 16.

“The day I got my acceptance e-mail, I was so excited,” she said. “It was like the biggest accomplishment I could have done at that moment, because I knew it was very competitive to volunteer at the hospital.”

At the time, Leslie was a student at South Salem High School. Fast-forward: Today she has her BS in nursing from OHSU!

“I was very interested in the health care field and anything related to the hospital,” she said. “Right after school, I would just walk through Bush Park and go to my shift.”

From high school through college, she gave three to four hours each week making packets, IV kits and mother-baby bags; helping in the food pharmacy, labor and delivery and pediatrics; assisting with wayfinding and the hardest, most grueling work of all — cuddling babies.

“I was basically just on call,” Leslie said, “and whenever there was a baby that didn’t have parents or there was a tough situation and a baby needed to be held or cared for, when the nurses couldn’t do it, I would go and volunteer two or three hours to just hold a baby. That was one was very rewarding.”

With the endearing title of “baby cuddler” under her belt, Leslie gave many of her weekends to Salem Health, days she encourages prospective volunteers to consider.

“There’s usually volunteers only Monday to Friday,” she said. “And there were so many units that needed help [on the weekends] and we didn’t have enough time to help them all. If you’re willing to do weekends, I know that’s a great need.”

This year, Leslie graduated with her Bachelor of Science in nursing from the OHSU School of Nursing Monmouth Campus, located at Western Oregon University.

“Before I even started volunteering, I knew I wanted to be a nurse,” Leslie said. “But as I was there [volunteering at Salem Health], I wanted it more.”

Immersed in a health care setting, Leslie found her why.

“Something, like, shifted, and I think by being there and being involved here and having those experiences really helped me decide what I really wanted to pursue,” she said.

Nursing — specifically, night shift in the ICU.

“During school, we had senior practicum clinicals and I was placed in the ICU for about six months on nights,” she said. “It was just a great, great learning environment. Everyone was so welcoming. All the managers, all the charge nurses, everyone.”

Night shift allowed Leslie to learn at her own pace. “Everything’s slower,” she said. “There are less people in the hospital. You have more time to really think and do things instead of being rushed.”

She was drawn to the calm — and the people.

“Everyone was just encouraging and appreciative,” Leslie said. “Everyone was so welcoming. All that stuff just makes you feel great about being there. And so I tried really hard to get a position [on night shift] and, thankfully, I did.”

Leslie’s first day on the ICU night shift was Monday, Aug. 21. And just like that day back in high school when she first got her volunteer acceptance email, she couldn’t wait to begin.

“I’m just really excited to start my nursing career, but also just more excited to be able to have the opportunity to start at Salem,” Leslie said. “I’m excited to join an organization that offers so many resources to visitors and staff.”

“I feel much more comfortable being in a hospital I already know,” she said. “It’s gonna be a good new chapter and opportunity for me.”