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Medical education through volunteer work

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Blaze Ndywe, a senior at St. Gregory the Great High School on Chicago’s North Side, spent much of the school year at Weiss, volunteering daily in the pharmacy. He helped pharmacists transport medication, organize intravenous fluids and stock syringes.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I used to think pharmacists didn’t do a lot of physical work.”

Ndywe is one of five students from his school who volunteer at Weiss. Each works in a different area of the hospital.

Terry Tuohy, director of volunteer services at Weiss, said the students gain invaluable experience from their hours at the hospital. Young people, she said, “have no clue what’s out there. This opens up their eyes and early enough that they can still go to school for it. From age 3, a child may say she wants to be a doctor, but she doesn’t know about radiology” or other areas that make a hospital function.

Through a school program called Protégé, Ndywe landed at Weiss. The school has partnered with Weiss—and 25 other companies—for the past five years. In that time, 25 student-volunteers have come to Weiss, and Tuohy said many of them have pursued medical careers. Some are in nursing or medical school, and one became an EMT to put himself through college.

The ethnically diverse volunteers from St. Gregory’s reflect the diversity of the hospital’s patient population, Tuohy said. Many are immigrants from Africa, South America and Eastern Europe, and Tuohy finds value in seeing them assimilate to life in Uptown. “Weiss is the largest employer in Uptown, and we love fostering education for the community,” Tuohy said.

Ndywe, who spent 15 hours a week in the pharmacy, worked with pharmacists who treated him as a peer. “They taught me to always ask for more work and to maintain a clean environment,” Ndywe said.

That experience will make Ndywe stand out on future school or job applications and has enhanced his confidence. Shy when he started, Tuohy called him “big man on campus” by the time he left. “This is the first time these kids get to work with adults as colleagues. It’s one step in the maturity level,” she said, adding that Blaze was “prompt, polite and eager to learn.”

In addition to learning from the pharmacists, Ndywe said he learned from Tuohy, too. “She has taught me to make my own way, not just do what my parents want.”

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