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Niagara Health volunteer sets sights on healthcare career after donating time to dialysis patients

Posted Apr 27th, 2022

Niagara Health volunteer sets sights on healthcare career after donating time to dialysis patients

Volunteering is a family affair for Brianna Sirotnik.

Brianna’s mom, Daniela, gave her time as a candy striper before becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) for Niagara Health. Her dad has devoted countless unpaid hours to community sports leagues. And her grandmother, Mary, took up volunteering at the Walker Family Cancer Centre after retiring as an RN.

So it made sense that Brianna would follow their lead, signing on as a teen to volunteer at the information desk, as a mealtime assistant, and then in the dialysis unit at Niagara Health’s St. Catharines Site in 2013.

“I take volunteering very seriously,” Brianna says. “It’s always been in my family and I see the value in it.”

Brianna is one of 600 volunteers Niagara Health is celebrating this week during National Volunteer Week. In addition to helping in the dialysis unit, like Brianna, volunteers play a variety of critical roles, including supporting patients and loved ones when they arrive at hospital and directing them through the registration process; assisting with administrative duties in the volunteer office or in pastoral care; and running the gift shops at NH sites. Additionally, some volunteers are supporting programs virtually through the pandemic.

For Brianna, her time in dialysis included spending regular shifts keeping up to two dozen patients company while they received treatment. She’d bring them liquids to keep hydrated, blankets to keep warm, and kind words to keep them feeling connected and cared for.

As with many volunteers, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented Brianna from continuing her volunteer role for the time being. However, she’s stayed in touch with some of those patients.

“Volunteering allows you to learn about people and connect with them,” Brianna says. “Volunteering allowed me to do that but also to look beyond myself and at the needs of others.”

Volunteering at Niagara Health did something else for Brianna. It set her on a path to becoming a medical doctor.

Since being sidelined from her volunteering shifts by the pandemic, Brianna has worked part-time for Niagara Health.

It started with a job as a healthcare assistant, helping to screen visitors to the St. Catharines Site. Since then, she has worked as a clinical research assistant in the Heart Investigation Unit, screening patients for eligibility to participate in studies. Brianna also works part-time in the Intensive Care Unit, inputting data for research.

Come September, she’ll start the master’s program in cardiology at Brock University before applying to medical school to become a cardiologist or intensivist.

“My interest in medicine and research grew exponentially since starting (volunteering) and it’s what inspired me to apply to the master’s program,” Brianna says.  “That won’t happen for everyone but it is amazing to see how volunteering can lead in so many directions and open up so many doors.”

That’s why she doesn’t hesitate to encourage others to give their time to an organization or cause in their community, and particularly to Niagara Health.

In addition to homing in on her career goals, Brianna says volunteering has helped her develop critical skills that are applicable to any life situation, including trust, empathy, courage, respect and compassion.

“Do it,” Brianna urges. “Volunteering reinforces (those skills) and those are values you take with you through the rest of your life.

“Volunteering is extremely gratifying,” she adds. “You have someone in front of you whose needs are unique. Providing that help, even if it’s just a conversation, is one of the most satisfying feelings I can think of.”

Volunteer opportunities at Niagara Health

Due to COVID-19, NH is not actively recruiting volunteers within most hospital programs but those interested in volunteering in the future can apply through the online application.

However, Niagara Health gift shops are looking for volunteers. Apply online and select gift shop as your area of interest.

The Niagara Health Engagement Network is also recruiting Patient Partners. Learn more about our Patient Partners.  

Niagara Health System