Volunteer Voices: What volunteers do

Juliana Pirkle: Clinical Psychology Volunteer to Research Assistant II 

Juliana PirkleEarlier this year, Juliana Pirkle began working a full-time role at OHSU as a Research Assistant II within the Developmental Brain Imaging Lab. In this role, Julie helps facilitate the implementation of fMRI adolescent research through assisting MRI scans, data pre-processing, scoring, and entry. She also helps with participant recruitment and screening to see if potential participants are eligible to enter certain research studies.

Julie gained knowledge and skills in clinical research through over 2 years of volunteer service in clinical research, which played a vital role in helping her get to where she is today. It was Julie’s interest in clinical neuropsychology that motivated her to find a volunteer position at OHSU. She recognized that a volunteer role could show her how research studies are conducted on a large scale, using incredibly sophisticated equipment like MRI. Julie accepted a volunteer role within the School of Medicine Clinical Psychology department that soon became a jumping point.

I knew OHSU had a reputation of quality and scientific rigor, but getting to experience the astounding ingenuity and genuine compassion for people first-hand as a volunteer is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.” Her excitement with being part of a compassionate university encouraged Julie to extend her experience into other facets within OHSU. 

Julie has been able to apply her work within the community: "In addition to my working in another lab, I've had the opportunity to branch out and volunteer my services for another neuroimaging lab (SCAN lab), teach kids about adolescent brain development at a science fair at OMSI, discuss high-level research articles at didactics between several of the human neuroimaging research labs at OHSU, and attend meetings where psychology enthusiasts of all backgrounds meet and discuss trauma studies and treatment."

Now looking towards Graduate School for a degree in Clinical Neuropsychology, she recognizes that the skills she has attained from volunteering gave her the technical and applicable experience she needed to be successful.

Julie interviewed with OHSU's Sean Robertson, OVV Promoter of Digital Media, about her experience volunteering within the Clinical Psychology Department. Check out the full interview below:

If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a volunteer like Julie, check out our guide to registering as a volunteer.

Interview Highlights

How would you describe your experience and/or interactions with staff?

My experience with the staff was one of the primary reasons I decided I wanted to continue to work for my lab in a full-time position; the staff are truly driven, intelligent, and compassionate individuals who are committed to their work while also acting as inspiring mentors. The collaboration between the volunteers, research assistants, grad-students, post-docs, and PIs offered a wealth of information and experience for the volunteers to draw upon to get a full understanding of how a lab functions. Interacting with the students and professionals of all different levels also afforded me the opportunity to see the full research process from the minute a potential participant expresses interest, to the many ways in which neuropsychological data are collected, to how data are analyzed and presented at professional conferences.

Has your time volunteering impacted your current state, and/or future goals?

While I was involved with psychology research during my time at a small liberal arts college, volunteering at OHSU before starting a full-time position allowed me to get a better idea of how research is conducted on a much larger scale, and using much more sophisticated equipment like an MRI. I knew that I enjoyed and was very much interested in psychology research from my prior experience, but wanted to expand my knowledge and skills before applying to a graduate program. Volunteering not only gave me in-depth training using computer software and programs widely used by professionals across the country (among many other relevant job-skills), it also gave me directly applicable experience and knowledge that has helped me immensely in my new position, and has prepared me for many of the skills I will need in graduate school to complete a degree in clinical neuropsychology.

What was your most challenging aspect(s) of volunteering at OHSU?

There was definitely a big learning curve at the start of my volunteer assignment; working in a new environment with new people while trying to learn the basics of a new computer language (I'd never worked with Linux before) and navigating the many nuances of research where attention to detail is extremely important was really exciting, but was also daunting at the outset. Thankfully, I had help from some very understanding lab-members who helped answer questions and encouraged me to start troubleshooting things myself after I'd learned the basics. Once I realized 9/10 times I already knew the answers to the questions I didn't always feel sure about, I gained more confidence and the job came a bit more easily. Then things got really fun-- I started branching out and learned new skills more rapidly, and helped train other lab members on things I'd already mastered.

What advice do you have to other volunteers who want to get involved at OHSU?

I had a great time in my volunteer assignment, and would absolutely encourage anyone who's interested to pursue a volunteer position in an area they're excited about. While I didn't take advantage of the opportunity myself because I happened to find a lab I was immediately happy with, I would advise others to try out different labs or departments if they don't connect with their first pick, because OHSU has such a diverse array of fields and experts to learn from. Once you find a place you're happy with, don't be afraid to ask for more! Volunteers are usually only expected to do the bare minimum in order to meet the weekly requirements, but if you're working in a department you're really enthusiastic about, don't be afraid to ask for more guidance or skills training if you think those things will help you succeed in your field. While you are there to help, you are also there to learn, and there may be more available to you than what your supervisor mentions at the beginning, you just have to ask and find out for yourself!

Anything else about your experience you want to share?

There's no doubt in my mind that OHSU is one of the top institutions in the country for research. The sheer number of talented students, professors, doctors, and research professionals, combined with state-of-the-art equipment at a university that cares deeply about advancing the boundaries of science makes for an environment where you can't help but be inspired to produce your best work, every day. I knew OHSU had a reputation of quality and scientific rigor, but getting to experience the astounding ingenuity and genuine compassion for people first-hand as a volunteer is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. In addition to my work for my own lab, I've gotten to branch out and volunteer my services for another neuroimaging lab (SCAN lab), teach kids about adolescent brain development at a science fair at OMSI, discuss high-level research articles at didactics between several of the human neuroimaging research labs at OHSU, and attend meetings where psychology enthusiasts of all backgrounds meet and discuss trauma studies and treatment. I'm thankful that I found an incredible lab that met my research interests filled with professionals who care deeply about their work, and with every OHSU employee and volunteer I meet, I find that my experience is shared with nearly everyone I talk to.

What's next?

Onward towards my new role as a Research Assistant II in Developmental Brain Imaging Lab, and eventually graduate school for a degree in clinical neuropsychology.

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Sean Jackson: Cord Blood Program and POLARIS Volunteer

Sean Jackson, a volunteer with both the Cord Blood Donation Program and the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Associate Research Internship Program (POLARIS), faces a tremendous challenge; how can we all play an active role in saving patient lives? Sean started as a volunteer with the Cord Blood Donation Program in the fall of 2014 and has since become not only an familiar face in the halls of Labor and Delivery, but an essential one in the halls of Doernbecher's Pediatric Hematology Oncology Clinic as well.

Sean's story is a familiar one to many volunteers. As an undergraduate student at Portland State University, Sean wanted to gain experience in the field of medicine before determining a career path. As Sean states, "I started volunteering at OHSU because I wanted some first-hand hospital experience before I applied to medical school, but while volunteering I realized that I was just hitting the tip of the iceberg. I now plan on taking a few years to work as a research assistant - hopefully at OHSU - after I graduate this spring and before applying to the School of Medicine." Sean went on to state "...volunteering not only enriched my understanding of how hospitals function, but rather the ability to work collaboratively as an academic institution to meet the needs of patients."

Working alongside patients in Labor and Delivery, Sean volunteers his time to check and prepare donated units of cord blood to be sent to a public blood bank. Cord Blood is a viable treatment to many patients as it contains essential stem cells that can be used for transplant. Being the only Cord Blood Donation Program in the State of Oregon, Sean ensures that all collected units can be properly banked for use with patients around the globe. When not in L&D, Sean volunteers with the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinical Research team performing a variety of duties ranging from auditing research studies to centrifuging and freezing blood samples. Needless to say, there are no slow days around the halls of OHSU.

While initially volunteering to gain experience in a hospital environment, Sean has found the opportunities presented to him invaluable to his educational growth. As Sean states "I think just being up here and knowing that my actions are helping others is probably the most important part of my experience. Working a variety of different internships has made me more confident in my field. As a student on his way to graduate this spring, I think OHSU has given me the professional experience and exposure that I was lacking at university. Its like they handed me the tool belt that I didn't have but sorely needed."

If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a volunteer like Sean check out our guide to registering as a volunteer.

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Olga Britantchouk, Vascular Surgery

\\Client\H$\Desktop\OlgaOlga Britantchouk, research intern with the Vascular Surgery Department, starts off her shift scrubbing in for surgery, conversing with the surgeon, and settles in to watch her first heart-transplant. Even after being witness to dozens of other surgeries, Olga gets engulfed by a rush each time she has the opportunity to watch OHSU surgeons in action. Olga remembers when she started volunteering, "I wanted to go into pharmacy and was just interested in shadowing surgery. But after my first day volunteering, I knew there was no going back. I had my heart set on becoming a surgeon." Post-Operation Olga checks-in with the surgeon and has the opportunity to meet the patient shortly after the procedure.

Working alongside the best vascular surgeons at OHSU has provided Olga with an eye-opening, firsthand experience of what it takes to become a surgeon. Catching on quickly to medical terminology, she has learned how to better manage her time, grow upon her work ethic, and ensure she is taking the proper steps towards her future goals. When not in the OR, Olga works on her research article on Cerebral Venous Thrombosis (CVT), presenting her research to her team, and receiving feedback.

So what's Olga's advice for those interested in volunteering as a research volunteer at OHSU? "Take the risk and let yourself get out of your comfort zone. Your persistence is what will allow you the chance to experience something new and give you the insight to make informative decisions towards furthering your career."

If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a volunteer like Olga check out our guide to registering as a volunteer.

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Caleb Haley 1Caleb Haley: Learning the ropes at VirtuOHSU

For many who register with our program, applying to medical school is a major contributing factor to becoming a volunteer at OHSU. Caleb was no exception as his passion for medicine has only been fueled from his time spent volunteering with VirtuOHSU. In Caleb's one and a half years spent with VirtuOHSU he states how has been able to "network and build professional relationships with medical students, residents, and faculty" to gain many invaluable mentors. In March, Caleb was able to directly apply what he has learned from research in laparoscopic surgical simulation for his baccalaureate senior thesis and present a poster at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Consortium of ACS-Accredited Education Institutes in Chicago (manuscript currently in process).

The experienced gained through volunteering has allowed Caleb a reaffirmation of pursuing a future in the healthcare industry and meeting his goal of getting into to medical school. As he states, "because medicine is such a long and trying process, it can be difficult to stay motivated, but volunteering in the surgical simulation lab allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel and remain invested."

If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a volunteer like Caleb check out the guide to registering as a volunteer.

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Andrew Summers: The Journey from CRISP to Medical School

Andrew R Summers OHSUAndrew Summers is the type of individual who welcomes new experiences with boundless enthusiasm as a stepping-stone for reaching his goals. In the 14 months Andrew spent volunteering with Healthcare Volunteer Services on the Neurosurgery/ENT inpatient floor, to his two years volunteering with CRISP, Andrew was able to cement his decision towards becoming a medical student in the upcoming school year at OHSU. Andrew recognizes that the experiences, skills and connections he created as a volunteer have all served him well towards attaining his dream.

Volunteering at OHSU, Andrew found that his experience was not only eye-opening but rewarding. Andrew states, "the most satisfying part of being a volunteer is to get to see that what you do really makes a difference in the lives of patients. Spending the time to talk with and connect with patients can have a huge impact on how positive their experience is. Something as simple as holding someones hand can put them at ease during a stressful time."

As Andrew exemplifies, volunteering can provide a safe harbor for trying your hand in new areas to gauge whether its something you really do want to pursue and expose you to other professionals in that field that have the connections to help make your transition a reality. If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a volunteer like Andrew check out our guide to registering as a volunteer.

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Molly Stillwell - Research Volunteer in DMICE (Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology)

meBeing one of the top research institutes in the country is a fact we are very proud of at OHSU, and a fact that caught the eye of Molly Stillwell, the research volunteer who became an OHSU employee. Starting as a research volunteer in 2014 Molly had a goal of gaining experience in the field of psychological research. While still a student, Molly quickly adapted to learn how to create and manage databases, review abstracts, and facilitate the completion of documents for publication in brain trauma research. Molly states that the flexibility in her volunteer role allowed for a greater experience: "Overall, I enjoyed the flexibility in being a student and volunteer because I was able to experience many different areas of work and learn a full range of different things." Molly's passion for continuing in becoming a psychological researcher was consistently fueled by the support of fellow staff at OHSU. As Molly states, "My experience has truly been enriched by those who have welcomed me as part of their team and gone the extra length to include me in the work they are doing."

It is without a doubt that being a volunteer at OHSU makes a valuable impact on one's life. In Molly's case it led to her being able to continue her research in a paid role as a Research Assistant 2 in Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology. Looking back on her role as a volunteer, Molly remarks on how it positively impacted her career stating, "volunteering at OHSU has genuinely helped me feel confident about continuing to pursue research as a career in my life. It was such a valuable experience because it enabled me to better understand this type of work, the amazing places it can take me, and all of the interesting things there are to discover."

For those interested in volunteering at OHSU, Molly suggests to be open to new experiences and seize them as they become available: "This attitude not only provides the opportunity to learn and experience as much as possible, it also keeps you alert to all of the amazing possibilities that are available within OHSU. There are so many things to experience, and if you are committed to making the most of it, there will be no shortage of opportunity to meet you."

To learn about how to become a volunteer like Molly, see our guide to registering as a volunteer.

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Kasey Luy: Intercultural Psychiatry Program Volunteer

Luy_KaseyStarting out as a volunteer in the in the Intercultural Psychiatry Program as a volunteer in 2010, Kasey Luy seized the opportunity to experience not only what a career in the field would look and feel like, but gained skills and built relationships that bolstered her resume. When two positions in the program became available this past October, many applicants applied, but Kasey's direct experience helped her to become amongst the top most qualified candidates, and ultimately one of final candidates selected. Recently hired, Kasey is excited to take this next step in her career, contribute to a greater cause, and learn about cultural diversity "witnessing that despite our language barriers and cultural differences we [are] the same in our values: human connection, love, respect, hope and faith for the future and life in general."

To learn about how to become a volunteer like Kasey, see our guide to registering as a volunteer.

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Dave Crone - Molecular & Medical Genetics Volunteer

Dave Crone, Volunteer Voice Fall 2014"I began my time in the Harding Lab being only vaguely familiar with how a research lab operates on daily basis," Dave Crone, former volunteer in the department of Molecular and Medical Genetics explains. "But with the goal of attending graduate school in the future and conducting research of my own, I wanted to become more familiar with the setting and culture. So for me, the experience in a research environment alone has been extremely satisfying." Crone, having just wrapped up his volunteer time this summer, found his time and exposure to the research setting to be beneficial "…Having the privilege to help with research on treatment for a disease is what I'm most thankful for. It's a great feeling to know that I was able to help, even if it was just a little bit, to make progress on improving the quality of life for what I hope ends up being many, many people."

Contributing to the big picture of OHSU's mission is something we hope all RAVS volunteers experience. We asked Crone what brought him to want to volunteer in the first place? "In the past, when I've contemplated making a significant change in my life, I'll find volunteer opportunities that help me further understand the scope of what I'm considering. In this case, I had been thinking about applying for graduate school in a few years, but I wanted to make sure that life in a research lab was something I was actually suited for and enjoyed. After spending the summer here, it's clear to me that academic and clinical research is something I definitely want to pursue – and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to conduct it at OHSU. I learned more than I had hoped and found the entire experience extremely valuable….My goals were exceeded simply by virtue of this institution – the caliber of work that's done here and the exceptional people involved have helped me come away from this experience with more insight than I could have articulated at the onset. I was thoroughly impressed and hope to return someday as a researcher."

"I plan on highly recommending this experience to my peers and colleagues. I think that regardless of a person's professional or academic standing, people in the science/medical field would learn a lot and have new appreciations for what happens in a lab by spending a few weeks at the bench."

To learn about how to become a volunteer like Dave, see our guide to registering as a volunteer.

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Saul Goldfarb - Clinical Research Volunteer

Saul_CCAAPSaul Goldfarb, a four year CCAAP volunteer, is now a seasoned volunteer, but it wasn't too long ago that he wasn't so sure he self-identified as a clinical researcher. Visiting patients/research subjects bedsides and clarifying data with the nursing staff is an intimidating thought. But after only a few weeks of working he "…became more comfortable and self-reliant," former supervisor Elizabeth Beauregard shared. Now that he is one of CCAAP's veteran volunteers, Saul interacts regularly with clinical staff, helping to clarify extremely valuable data for Pulmonary and Critical Care's many investigators.

In recognition of his significant development as a successful volunteer, Saul was awarded the 2012 Outstanding Volunteer Award for Demonstrated Growth, and is planning to take his medical exam this Spring. In preparing to apply for medical school, Saul is grateful for his volunteer experience – both for helping him confirm his interest in medicine, and to bolster his medical school applications. 

To learn about how to become a volunteer like Saul, see our guide to registering as a volunteer.

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Lacey Royer - Hematology Oncology Volunteer

Royer_LaceyA few years ago while taking a cell biology course, Lacey Royer, found her passion in science. During that course she realized that she wanted to be a doctor with a possible emphasis on cancer scientific research. In December of 2010 she began volunteering with an OHSU Hematology/Oncology Research laboratory at the Knight Cancer Institute under Angela Fleischman, M.D. /PhD. Since Royer began over two years ago she has learned about cell culture, microscopy, cell staining, processing patient and mice blood samples, cell sorting and counting, and attends weekly lab meetings. Now that she has gained a great knowledge of the lab she spends a majority of her time working with mouse models that are under certain experimental conditions. She takes blood samples and analyzes them using specialized cell counter and monitor changes among their blood levels, health, and behavior.

When asked, Royer describes her time as "…extremely beneficial…I have learned so much, not only about scientific research but about myself. I have performed tasks that I never thought I could do and know that I have what it takes to do anything I set my mind to. My time at OHSU has also made me a better person and student by learning how to work best under pressure."

To learn about how to become a volunteer like Royer, see our guide to registering as a volunteer.

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