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VolunTEENs: The Next Generation of Hospital Helpers

Large group of teenagers sitting on steps.

Published on April 17, 2024

Summer Program Allows High School Students to Experience Healthcare Firsthand

Read Time: 4 Minutes


Courtney Harrop, a patient transfer coordinator at Phelps Health, always dreamed of working in healthcare.

“My grandmother told me about her being a ‘candy striper’ when she was my age, 15 or 16 at the time,” Courtney said.

A candy striper was a term used to describe a young volunteer at a hospital. These volunteers wore red-and-white striped uniforms, similar to the pattern of candy canes, hence the name.

After some encouragement from her grandma, Courtney applied to the Phelps Health VolunTEEN program.

“I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to pursue this dream of mine,” Courtney said. “Through this program, I got to know the hospital and made some new friends in the process.”

Carmen Phenix, a recruiter with the Phelps Health Human Resources Department, also wanted to learn about healthcare.

“I was curious to see Phelps Health from a different perspective since my only experiences at that time had been as a patient,” she said.

he applied to be a VolunTEEN to learn more about the various health system departments, including how they operated and worked together.

“Spending several hours each week over the summer with friends while being able to earn volunteer hours was certainly an opportunity I couldn’t ignore,” Carmen said.

Who qualifies to be a VolunTEEN?

The VolunTEEN program at Phelps Health is open to 14- to 17-year-olds who have not yet completed high school. (You must be 14 by June 3 this year to apply.)

In previous years, students from Rolla, St. James, Salem, Bland, Cuba, Newburg, Vienna, Dixon and Waynesville have participated in this program, according to Crystal Lorah, director of the Phelps Health Auxiliary and Volunteer Services, which oversees the VolunTEENs.

Teens must complete an application, which includes one reference letter, a health history form and a recent copy of their report card (showing a GPA equivalent to grades of C+ or better).

VolunTEENs also are required to show proof of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) immunizations and complete a TB (tuberculosis) skin test. Phelps Health’s Occupational Health and Wellness Department offers free TB skin testing.

Students chosen for the program must attend an orientation, where they will become familiar with hospital procedures and policies, acceptable VolunTEEN behavior and other important topics.

Important Dates to Remember for the 2024 VolunTEEN Program

  • Application Deadline: May 10
  • TB Skin Test: May 28

  • VolunTEEN Orientation: May 30
  • VolunTEEN Session: June 3-28

What does a VolunTEEN do?

Teens will volunteer for at least two 3-hour shifts per week in different areas throughout Phelps Health. They may assist at information and wayfinding desks or at the Lily Pad Gift Shop or Repeat Boutique resale shop. They help with office projects and sanitize wheelchairs, too.

As a VolunTEEN, Courtney enjoyed seeing the patients, handing out drinks and making people smile.

The young volunteers also get opportunities to visit and hear presentations from different departments.

In the past, VolunTEENs have learned about the following areas: Human Resources, Marketing, Obstetrics, Surgery, Medical Imaging, Sleep Lab, Respiratory, Laboratory, Phelps Air (medical helicopter), Ambulance, Organizational Development and Learning, and the Delbert Day Cancer Institute (DDCI).

Watching a surgery was a highlight for Courtney. “I really enjoyed watching the process from beginning to end,” she said.

Carmen liked learning more about the healthcare industry and the countless career paths available.

“Typically, when someone thinks of a healthcare organization, they think of only doctors and nurses,” Carmen said. “The VolunTEEN program showed me that while these employees are needed, so many people, outside of patient-facing employees, play an integral part in the success of Phelps Health.”

Due to confidentiality rules and regulations, including HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) requirements, VolunTEENs are unable to help in certain departments.

Why should you apply?

Being a VolunTEEN comes with many benefits. The program is a great way for teens to meet other students from area schools. In addition, students can include their volunteer experience on college, scholarship, National Honor Society (NHS) and job applications.

“I think every teenager should consider applying for the VolunTEEN program, whether or not they’re interested in healthcare,” Carmen said.

Both Carmen and Courtney said while they didn’t know it at the time, being a VolunTEEN played an important role in their futures.

When Carmen was looking for an internship to gain experience in a human resources department, she remembered her time volunteering at Phelps Health.

“I had such a positive experience as a VolunTEEN, prompting me to consider returning for an internship,” Carmen said. She became an intern and now works at Phelps Health.

“Working as a VolunTEEN paved a path for me,” Courtney said. “The VolunTEEN program offers you many opportunities to get to know departments and job shadow.”

The future begins with YOU

For more information about the VolunTEEN program, contact Neal Fallesen, specialist with the Phelps Health Auxiliary and Volunteer Services, at or (573) 458-7948.