Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is a comprehensive health care facility dedicated to patient care, research, and biomedical education. It has a reputation for excellence, and is a major patient referral center for the Mid-South. People throughout Tennessee and the southeast choose Vanderbilt for their health care needs, not only because of its excellence in medical science, but also because the faculty and staff are dedicated to treating patients with dignity and compassion. Vanderbilt's mission is to advance health and wellness through preeminent programs in patient care, education, and research.
Organizationally, Volunteer Services is part of the Department of Patient & Family Engagement. VUMC's Peer Programs, within Volunteer Services, provide support and information to patients and family members, supporting the overall goal of increasing patient satisfaction and providing excellence in health care.
VUMC created the initial program, Hope Connection, in conjunction with the Cancer Center's Patient & Family Support Services. This program, started in 2007-2008, connects patients and their families with trained volunteers who personally have experienced the challenges and complex issues of a cancer diagnosis. VUMC expanded the peer program to include the Trauma Unit where patients or family members are matched with a patient or family member of a patient dealing with a Traumatic Brain Injury, Spinal Cord Injury, Amputation, or Traumatic Multiple Fractures. Other peer programs followed: the Heart Transplant program (added in 2011), a Laryngectomee program (added in 2013), and a Trans Peer/Buddy program (added in 2014).
Generally a staff member—a nurse educator, manager, outreach coordinator, or program coordinator—on the unit or within the department in each program supervises and assigns volunteers based on the requests from clinical staff, patients, or family members. An exception is in the Trans Peer/Buddy Program, where a volunteer serves as the coordinator.
At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, peer mentoring is predominantly one-on-one matching based on referrals from staff or at the request of patients and family members. The Trauma Unit invites peer visitors to attend support groups that are held weekly or monthly. The Trans Peer/Buddy group also provides 24/7 phone support and peer volunteers will meet patients in the hospital setting or at their clinic/physician appointments.
The peer volunteers go through the hospital Volunteer Program for "onboarding" which includes an application, interview, background check, immunizations/health screening, online hospital orientation, unit-specific training, and shadowing an existing volunteer. Initial on-boarding expenses for volunteers include background check, immunizations, and meals during training, all of which come out of the Volunteer Services Budget. Hope Connection, through the Cancer Center, is the only program that covers its own expenses for orientation and training.
Primarily, each program/unit recruits its own volunteers through referrals from staff, website recruitment (Trauma Survivors Network and Trans Peer/Buddy), and word of mouth. Also patients and family members who received a service may later volunteer to "give back." Once recruited, all volunteers go through the regular volunteer orientation, and some training. Specific training varies depending on the unit on which the volunteer will work. The Hope Connection peer volunteers receive 8 hours of training, the Trauma Unit volunteers receive 4 hours, the Laryngectomee volunteers receive 3 hours, and the Trans Peer/Buddy volunteers receive 12 hours of training.
Peer volunteers are matched with patients. The process varies depending on the unit. Hope Connection tries to match a patient with a peer volunteer who had similar or the same diagnosis, and similar background/demographics, such as a mother with children being matched with a mother with children. Hope Connection is a phone support program only and may include one to four phone conversations. Trauma peer volunteers will be matched with a patient or family members who has a similar trauma, such as matching those with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or amputees. Peers sign-up to attend the weekly family support group based on availability. Peers will also visit patients/family members on the unit during a regularly scheduled day/time. These are general visits and if, during an interaction, a family member or patient would like to meet with a peer who had a similar injury, that request can be referred to the Nurse Educator for an assignment. Trans Peer/Buddy volunteers sign-up for 12-hour shifts to answer a phone line, provide support, and offer community resources to individuals. If the person calling needs medical attention, the volunteer will meet the patient in the Emergency Room. This is typically what happens as transgendered individuals may put off health care due to discrimination or fear of discrimination. Emergent care is typically the first entrance into a health care facility for transgendered individuals. With prior notice, volunteers may also go with the patient to scheduled primary care or clinic appointments. The goal of this program is to empower the patient to make informed health care decisions.
Currently, VUMC has almost 100 active peer volunteers. The cancer clinic has 49 volunteers, the trauma unit has 20 peer volunteers, cardiology has 4 peer volunteers, laryngectomee has 2 peer volunteers, and Trans Peer/Buddy has 24 peer volunteers.
The Volunteer Services Department tracks the number of hours a volunteer provides and works with each program to obtain the number of patient interactions that occur or assignments made. Stories from volunteers help to understand and communicate the positive impact that these programs have on patients and family members. Each program conducts its own evaluation and makes adjustments to the program based on feedback and comments from volunteers, patients, and family members.
Annually, all volunteers complete online hospital compliance training. Monthly Lunch & Learn events provide an opportunity for all VUMC volunteers to learn from physicians and researchers about ongoing programs and research at Vanderbilt. The Volunteer Services Department hosts an annual recognition event, such as a dinner, that is paid for out of its annual budget. The Trans Peer/Buddy program is the only group that currently meets quarterly to facilitate communication and support amongst its volunteers.
Next steps for the VUMC peer volunteer program include re-designing or modifying the Cardiology Peer and Larngectomee Peer Programs. These programs are not being utilized as much as the other programs. Volunteer Services is working with the staff in both programs to determine best way to increase usage. Other areas of expansion include peer volunteers for those who experience organ transplants, such as liver, kidney, pancreas, and bone marrow, and for individuals who live with diabetes.