When Emily Vance reached her mid-20s, she decided to get serious about pursuing a childhood dream. For years, she had entertained the possibility of becoming a nurse, but she hadn't spent much time in hospitals. Determined to learn more about hospital life, she contacted Cedars-Sinai's Volunteer Services Department in search of an opportunity.
"I wanted to volunteer to make sure that a hospital environment was something I could handle," she said.
Vance started volunteering at the medical center's Saperstein Critical Care Tower in spring 2012. Today, she makes her rounds as a nurse.
Volunteering, she said, inspired her to complete the accelerated nursing program at Mount St. Mary's College in 2013. Recently, she landed a coveted spot in Cedars-Sinai's new Graduate Nurse Residency Program, in which she will spend the next two years receiving extensive training and gaining valuable clinical experience.
"The Volunteer Services Department really helped me find my path," said Vance, who is now 30 and hopes to become a cardiac ICU nurse at Cedars-Sinai. "It did so much for me and my career."
Vance participated in two volunteer programs at Cedars-Sinai. In Transforming Care at the Bedside (TCAB), she shadowed nurses on several floors and quickly learned how to make herself useful by answering phones and performing safety checks in patients' rooms. In Mealtime Mates, she learned how to assist patients with eating.
"Feeding someone else is a lot harder than you think," she said.
Participating in both programs confirmed for Vance that she had made the right career choice and allowed her to discover a passion for volunteering.
"It is so much more than just donating your time," she said. "I never expected to be as touched as I am by all the patients I've met and hearing their stories. I've gotten so much great, free life advice from them."
An Early Aptitude for Medicine
Raised in Jackson, Miss., Vance always felt drawn to medicine. An avid equestrian who dreamed of one day becoming a veterinarian, she spent two years during her childhood nursing a sick horse and discovered she had a knack for medical work.
"I was calm in stressful situations and I was good with blood and guts and the details of wrapping and soaking," she said. "But it broke my heart that I couldn't explain to my horse why I was approaching him with shots instead of carrots. That made me think I'd rather interact with humans."
Vance also found a role model in her grandmother, who lost her eyesight from a genetic disorder and "always tried to be the most optimal, healthiest version of herself. She made me see how taking these little steps for your health really matters," Vance said. "And that's what nurses do. They do these little things every day to help educate and heal people."
Yet, Vance, who describes herself as an extrovert and an art lover, initially pursued a different career path. At Pepperdine University, she majored in speech communication, minored in organizational/industrial psychology and became a certified cycling instructor. After graduating in 2006 with a speech communication degree, she worked as an assistant to a jewelry buyer for a few years before deciding to take prerequisite classes for nursing at Santa Monica College.
"I was the creative, intuitive type and I didn't know if I'd be able to handle the science," she said. "But a close friend of my family who worked as a nurse told me I'd be great at it and that I'd bring a different perspective to nursing."
Volunteer Experience Proves Invaluable
Still, Vance wasn't sure she had found her calling until becoming a Cedars-Sinai volunteer. During one of her first rotations in the TCAB program, she said, "there was this one nurse who had this great rapport with patients, and she asked me if I wanted to shadow her. She really showed me how things worked and it made me see that I wanted to be a nurse like she was."
Vance then enrolled at Mount St. Mary’s College for her nursing classes. Currently "over the moon" in her role as a nurse, Vance feels tremendous gratitude for all that she learned as a Cedars-Sinai volunteer.
"The volunteer role is unique in that you have the luxury of time to just sit down and talk with a patient for as long as possible," she said. "I have this perspective now about patients as human beings. As a nurse, I will remember that it's important to, of course, do my job, but also to relate human-to-human to someone in a nonmedical way."