It’s amazing to see youth making a positive impact in our world and in our community. At Empath Health, we are thrilled to have Pinellas County high school teens ages 14 to 18 support our mission of care. Their dedicated time and spirit uplifts the many people we serve across our network.
Over the years, several teens have inspired us with exceptional service and continued on to great accomplishments. Recently, we caught up with two of our former Suncoast Hospice teen volunteers of the year. Both earned outstanding academic achievements and entered the medical field as nurses. They say their hospice volunteer service was a great influence in their lives and their chosen career paths.
Brooke Liston, RN, BSN
Then: Graduated in the Class of 2012 at Palm Harbor University High School. Contributed more than 400 teen volunteer service hours with Suncoast Hospice. Her service included patient and family support, office, community outreach, special events, craft meetings, teen council, holiday caroling and baking.
Now: Graduated with honors in the University of Florida (UF) Class of 2016 and was inducted into the UF Hall of Fame. She currently resides in Ohio and works as an RN at the Cleveland Clinic cardiovascular surgical ICU (intensive care unit). U.S. News & World Report this year ranked Cleveland Clinic the # 1 cardiovascular and heart surgery hospital and the # 2 best hospital in the U.S.
What’s it like being a nurse at Cleveland Clinic?
I started working at Cleveland Clinic in July. I’m in a nurse residency program with a job in the cardiovascular ICU. We work post-op with our heart and lung transplant patients. We work with different machines, such as the ECMO machine, which oxygenates blood for them. It’s absolutely incredible what technology can do. In the program, I also take classes and go to weekly meetings with the managers. It helps me learn a lot about this specific patient population.
We’ve been number one in heart care for the last 22 years. I love it there. Everyone’s very nice and welcoming. There’s a lot of respect for our nurses and we have a lot of pride.
Did you always want to do nursing?
Going into nursing was definitely due in huge part to Suncoast Hospice. I loved working and talking with the patients. It directed me toward nursing. At Cleveland Clinic, we have that bedside care with all the highs and lows of the patients, and I love it. Sometimes we get patients who go into palliative care when they are very sick and treatments are no longer effective. I always use my hospice experience. I learned so much from hospice, whether it’s communicating with patients or compassion. I still think about it every time I work.
Why did you volunteer with hospice?
My older sister volunteered with Suncoast Hospice and was a volunteer of the year like me. My grandmother was a nurse and became a volunteer for Suncoast Hospice. Volunteering is a family affair.
Being in the medical program in high school, I wanted to do something related to medicine with my volunteer service. I saw how rewarding hospice volunteering was to my sister. Through her guidance, I decided to volunteer. It was a great way to be exposed to health care. As a teen volunteer, you really can brighten a patient’s day on a visit.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love going to Cleveland sports events. I also like exploring the parks, hiking and outdoors as much as I can.
What does your induction in the UF Hall of Fame mean?
The UF Hall of Fame has been around since 1921. It inducts graduating students each year. It’s one of the school’s highest achievements recognizing academic and university involvement. One of my activities was delivering shawls to palliative and hospice patients for UF Health. Being in the hall of fame is amazing. Tim Tebow also is inducted.
Do you keep in touch with people from hospice?
Yes, I still talk with them and it’s nice. A lot of them went to UF like me.
What are your goals for patient care?
I work to make sure they know everything that’s going on with their care. I let them know they can always ask me questions. Being in the hospital can be so scary. I want them to know I’m there for them as a nurse and advocate. I’m there for their family members, too. Compassion and empathy are my two biggest values in care.
What’s your advice to current teen volunteers?
First of all, be very thankful you have this opportunity to volunteer with these kinds of patients because they are so special and it’s such a fragile time in their lives. You have the opportunity to make their days better, help them smile and care for them. Treat everyone with respect and thank the people you volunteer with for their hard work.
Volunteering for hospice as a teenager shaped who I’ve become in the best way. It did so much for me. I feel very thankful each day that I get up and want to go to work. I have to thank hospice for that.
Then: Graduated in the Class of 2014 – attended Palm Harbor University High School, Countryside High School and a St. Petersburg College (SPC) early college program. Set and still holds the record for the most teen volunteer service hours (more than 1,011) at Suncoast Hospice. His service included patient and family support, cheer team, party pals, thoughtful gestures, fundraising, office support, Project PUP pet therapy partnership and teen volunteer regional leadership board.
Now: Graduated #1 with the highest overall G.P.A. in the 2016 nursing class at Florida State University (FSU) at the age of 19. He currently resides in Safety Harbor and works as an RN at Largo Medical Center.
How was nursing school?
I was 17 and scared when I first went in. It was my first time away from home. Everyone was so nice and helpful. I met lots of great friends and people. It was really cool. We had our little nursing family who all were in my SPC program. At FSU, we did a lot of studying and spent time together at the holidays, Super Bowl games and other gatherings.
What’s it like being a nurse at Largo Medical Center?
My mom became a nurse when I was in high school and works at Largo Med, too. I knew it was good place to work. I work often in the cardiac step-down unit. We have a lot of post-op heart and lung patients.
It’s a really fun and rewarding experience. You learn a lot, especially with our open heart patients because they can have many needs. It’s a lot of critical thinking and being able to initiate interventions before something bad happens to their condition. The patients are very engaged in their care. They want to know what’s going on and how they’re going to take care of themselves when they go home.
How do you like working with other hospital staff?
All of the nurses have been really great, welcoming and happy to answer my many questions as a new nurse. It has been a great experience with the whole hospital. It reminds me of when I was with Suncoast Hospice, how it felt like I was part of a family and a team.
What are your goals for patient care?
My biggest goal that I always keep in mind is to treat a patient like he/she is someone’s family. This is a person’s wife, mom, dad, brother or sister, and never just a room number. I want to provide the level of care that I’d like my mom to receive if she was in the hospital, and to never lose sight of that.
What impact did hospice volunteering make on you?
That was the most valuable experience to have. I visited and interacted with patients in their homes, nursing facilities and hospitals. I now spend a lot of time not just doing my nursing tasks, but talking with people, hearing their stories and being a companion. A lot of patients in the hospital don’t have family who come often. They can feel lonely and bored. They want to not just talk about their medical care, but their families and stories, too.
Did you always dream of going into nursing?
I don’t think I knew in the beginning. I jumped from many different job interests. I started volunteering for hospice with patients, went into the early college program and took some pre-requisite nursing studies right around the time my mom became a nurse – and that all started planting the seeds. Then I went into nursing school and thought this was for me.
How do you spend your spare time?
I love living in Safety Harbor. I like to read and paddleboard, which is something I discovered at FSU. I haven’t had that much free time. It has been really busy and I sleep a lot on my days off.
Do you stay in touch with people from hospice?
A few people I volunteered with also attended FSU, and we’d get together at lunch, the library or spring break. A few times on campus I saw my former volunteer coordinator with her daughter, who volunteered on a cheer team with me.
What’s your advice for current teen volunteers?
It’s important to be present with patients in hospice. It’s amazing how much you can gain hearing their stories and sharing your stories. As far as life, don’t be discouraged when you run into bumps and aim to pursue what you want to do. Who thought I could be a 19-year-old nurse caring for heart patients? FSU took me in and worked with me. You always can find a way if you’re determined enough to accomplish what you set your mind to.
Want to make a difference and volunteer? South Pinellas teens and their parents are invited to join our teen open house on October 5 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at our St. Petersburg community service center. For more information, call (727) 564-5920.
Want to learn more about our teen volunteer opportunities? Call one of our teen volunteer coordinators in your area. An interview and orientation are provided to become a volunteer.