Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences

Fred, emeritus staff member who was an orthodontist at Mayo Clinic from 2001 to 2018 and Jenn, a child life manager, share their experiences giving back to our patients through volunteer programs at Mayo Clinic. Fred is a retired Army colonel who serves as a Final Roll Call volunteer where they pay tribute to our service people in their final days. Jenn is a dog owner who volunteers with the Caring Canines program where they have specially trained and certified dogs to provide companionship and comfort to patients seeking care at Mayo Clinic.

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Mayo Clinic is a unique place: the culture, the values, the people. "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" explores the experiences of Mayo Clinic staff as they navigate life personally and professionally. Sharing these experiences increases understanding of others and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work.

Fred: Volunteering can be a very enriching experience. It can help you grow as a person, and you make a positive impact in the world around you.
Narrator: This is the "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" podcast, where we build trust and belonging through the authentic storytelling of our Mayo Clinic staff. In this episode, you will hear Fred, an emeritus Mayo Clinic staff member who was an orthodontist at Mayo from 2001 to 2018 and Jenn, a child life manager, discuss their experiences giving back to our patients through Mayo Clinic volunteer programs.
Fred: I retired from the Army as a colonel. I was in from 1971 to 1995, and after that I taught at the University of Louisville for six years before coming north to Mayo Clinic. I retired, sort of, but I became involved with the volunteer programs here at the Mayo Clinic, and one of those programs was No One Dies Alone otherwise known by the acronym "NODA.” From that I got involved with a veterans' recognition program that was renamed here as Final Roll Call at Mayo Clinic and I've enjoyed it. I was also pleased to be sharing this podcast with Jenn from our Caring Canines, and I'd be interested in how you got involved with Caring Canines.
Jenn: First of all, thank you for your service. I want to acknowledge that that you've put in both with the military and your work here at Mayo Clinic. I am the child life manager, and I have been here at Mayo Clinic since 2002. It was during my time here, working with patients and families I saw the value of having therapy dogs brought to our program. I always had a dream of maybe someday bringing a dog here to visit patients, but it wasn't until he was about three years old that I really thought his temperament would be a really good fit to be a therapy dog here, and that's then when I looked into how I could be part of the Caring Canines program. At that same time, was when I moved into the manager position. And I, in this role, no longer have direct patient care responsibilities on a regular basis. And so I missed seeing patients, and I missed being with the kids. I thought this was an excellent way to see how I could make this work.
Tell me more about the Final Roll Call.
Fred: Mayo Clinic has had a long tradition with the military, and both Charlie [Mayo] and Will [Mayo] were commissioned as Brigadier Generals in the Reserve Army medical core in 1921. So this goes back a long ways, and to this day there are military members in the Mayo Clinic staff and allied health staff, who were on active duty at one time or another, perhaps they are also retired, and many, many, many continue to serve in the reserves, in some form or capacity. So this long history includes caring for veterans and participating in the VA Community healthcare network. So this program, among other things, makes it possible for veterans to receive authorization for care at the Mayo Clinic Health System at locations where the community care requirements are met and are authorized by the VA. Mayo Clinic, more importantly, is also a partner with the We Honor Veterans program and this is run by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. And so veterans recognition here at the clinic is also known as Final Roll Call, and it's in collaboration with the palliative care teams at Methodist and St. Mary's. During the program's recognition veteran’s family will request this ceremony. Then the clinic and the palliative care team specifically will present a commemorative coin, a flag, and a letter from the clinic recognizes the service member’s role in the nation's defense. They'll receive the gratitude and respect and final salute from members, and oftentimes the team is accompanied by a musician who will play music and highlight oftentimes the branch member’s song - the Army’s song, the Air Force’s, song you know the Navy’s song. Even when patients are not cognitively aware, many times you'll see kind of this recognition, just the musicology, and see a smile appear.
Jenn: What a cool thing to offer and to honor these patients in that way. I can only picture what it looks like. I bet it's pretty emotional. And what a special thing for the family to participate and even staff to participate in.
Fred: As often as the palliative care team sees this, I'm always amazed at their dedication. It's just amazing that they can continue to do this in a day-to-day basis. You're probably familiar with some of those beneficiaries as well with the Caring Canines program.
Jenn: Yeah. Caring Canines is supported through Volunteer Services, and people bring their own personal pets here to spread joy to patients and families. Caring Canines can visit throughout the entire hospital as long as the patient isn't on isolation and doesn't have specific restrictions. When families are here and they're in the middle of trauma or in the middle of crisis or maybe there was news of a new diagnosis, or maybe a sibling is here visiting a sibling that might be intubated and sedated, bringing an animal to that environment allows everyone to forget for a split second the reason why everybody's here and these four-legged animals come in and just brighten up the room. I'm really thankful that people volunteer their time.
Not all dogs are fit for the program, and personally, I was a little nervous about our dog cause our dog likes to be around other dogs, and I took a course to see if he would potentially be a fit to be here. We have the opportunity to have IV poles go by us, wheelchairs go by us, walkers go by us, have meal trays, does the dog react and respond okay in those situations. After I took the class, I went through a certification process for him to become a therapy dog. I started bringing in Murphy here on a monthly basis, and I look forward to that time and just cherish each and every moment. We're stopped along the way, either by maybe staff leaving their shift and needing a little bit of joy, or patients and families that we meet just on the lobby level of the hospital.
What are some things that you experience when you're volunteering with patients and families?
Fred: We're in usually the palliative care section patients. This is kind of the end of days, and so sometimes they're quiet, sometimes they want to share their experiences. The care team is there to recognize them. If they're lucky enough to have family members around. Often times, if they're talkative they can share experiences that many times your family members had no idea what they did large or small, whether they were deployed or some sort of connected support role. They're all important roles in our nation's defense. If you're veteran and you're talking to maybe another veteran, I think they talk a little bit more cause there are some shared experiences, the overseas deployment or loneliness, or separation from family. The family members, I think, like to hear those stories, and the veterans like to tell them.
Jenn: What an incredible memory for the family to hear that story.
Fred: You did talk a little bit about Murphy's training. But do you have any special training that goes along with this in the volunteer role? I mean, on top of your regular job.
Jenn: To be in this role you have to be able to have meaningful conversations with families. None of it is scripted. I think another skill is being a listener in these situations. And not that you have to be trained in any way to listen but being present and listening, I think is key. And then, just always remembering to have fun in these situations and how, being a light and being a joy maker for that split second is so important. And even though I volunteer in the same environment that I work, it's easy for me to take off that hat because I have a different focus and a different purpose when I'm giving back in that way of volunteering.
Is there one specific situation that really just stands out to you of a time where you were just so excited about what was just being offered to this family?
Fred: There was one Vietnam Vet who was not very responsive. The musicologist played the branch song for the army, and his eyes lit up, and he raised his arm in a salute to no one. But it was just kind of a...
Jenn: ...moment you won't forget.
Fred: Yeah, very heartwarming. Very heartwarming, and sorry it was probably – just having the folks in there see that it was it was pretty cool.
Jenn: Right.
Fred: You probably have a similar story.
Jenn: The story that really stands out to me was I was actually the child life specialist at the time in the room with the patient, and I had asked the volunteer to come in with the therapy dog her mom was struggling telling this teen patient about her oncology diagnosis being terminal. I had shared with the volunteer ahead of time the situation, and told the volunteer just be a listener in this situation. Don't feel that you have to say anything. I think the dog's gonna speak for all. And yeah, I got a lump in my throat sharing this story, too, because the dog was a fairly big dog and ended up climbing right in bed right next to the patient, and I still see the patient just petting the dog. The mom had said, “Do you know what the outcome is going to be with your cancer?” And she said, “Mom, you don't need to say anything right now,” she says, “I know,” and she goes, “I just need to be in this moment and pet this dog.” And it was complete silence in the room for a handful of minutes and after she was ready the patient said, “Mom. I know I'm going to die from this.” And again all three of us that are in the room just had tears in our eyes but what an effective tool of the dog to be able to help this patient cope and come up with the courage to be able to say those words. It was pretty powerful moment, and I am so thankful that we had a volunteer with the dog that was able to help that patient in that situation.
Fred: That's an amazing story. I think it's an important part of the care that we could and give at the Mayo Clinic.
Jenn: When you think of the needs of the patient come first, it's an honor and a privilege not only to work at an organization that really holds true to that value, but then to be able to turn around and give in this way of volunteering here. I can't imagine going anywhere else with Murphy, and I'm glad I'm here, and I'm sure even in your program, Fred, I'm glad you are able to come back here and be able to share and highlight these incredible people.
Fred: As you said as you said, Jenn, it's an honor and a privilege.
Jenn: I can't say enough about the support. After listening to you talk about the support that you get from palliative care. I feel that Mayo does an incredible job supporting volunteers.
Fred: People feel sense of fulfillment when they volunteer. They know that they're making a difference in the lives of others and others volunteer for the sense of gratitude for the opportunity to give back. No One Dies Alone program seems to provide, veteran centric care and support for those who have served our nation. It's an honor to recognize this service and sacrifice and ensure that they receive the best care possible in their final days. We get the training to handle veteran-specific, physical and emotional needs when they come to this point in their lives. And I just like to echo your sentiments. That volunteering can be a very rich and enriching experience. It can help you grow as a person, and you make a positive impact in the world around you. There's an urgent need, as in your area, urgent need for employees who are veterans to consider serving in this particular service area.
Jenn: We've each been blessed to be a blessing to others and finding a way to be able to use those giftings that you've been given. I would strongly suggest anybody who is considering to think of what giftings they have and how they can give them. When you think of all the good that comes out of what your program has done for so many, if others could share in that way, too.
Fred: It’s the culture in Mayo Clinic, right?
Jenn: It is, that's why we're here.
Narrator: Thank you both for sharing your experience giving back to others and volunteering in this way. Both are impactful for our patients and their families. We appreciate you.