Mercy volunteen Ryan Keefer wants to be a nurse one day and is doing everything he can to gain experience, working more than 3,000 hours the past four years, including 12-hour shifts.
“I wanted to see how I would handle a regular nursing shift,” said Keefer, 18, who volunteers about 20 hours a week at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith. “It can be stressful, but I don’t mind working the 12 hours.”
Keefer, a senior at Southside High School in Fort Smith, has volunteered for inpatient oncology and the emergency department for two years. He has a head start on a medical career and will have plenty of experience as he looks for a job as a certified nursing assistant after graduation. In a year or two, he plans to pursue a nursing degree.
“I’ve always liked helping people,” he said. “I really like being with patients and the hands-on interaction.”
Starting in 2015, the volunteen helped during the summer in various areas, including outpatient, central supply and the kitchen. Keefer enjoyed getting to know co-workers around the hospital and learning about different departments.
“I thought I’d do this for a year and see how things worked out because I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I ended up liking it so much that I didn’t care where I was placed or how many hours I’d volunteer.”
Keefer, the son of Lloyd and Doreen Keefer, quickly drew attention for his volunteering. He was recognized with a 2015 President’s Volunteer Service Award, which included a certificate and letter signed by President Obama.
By 2016, he was shadowing a social worker and a certified nursing assistant in patient care areas. The CNA worked one day on the oncology floor of the hospital, which caught Keefer’s attention.
“I like to connect with these patients and understand what they and their family are going through. I like to be with them and comfort them as much as I can,” he said.
Keefer has been well received by co-workers, patients and families while performing a variety of tasks such as answering patient call lights and phone calls to the unit, assisting the nursing staff and transporting patients in wheelchairs.
“I always try to have a smile on my face, no matter how the day is going,” he said. “If I do my job correctly, I help make people smile.”
On school days, he splits his time between the high school and classes at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith in the CNA program. He plans to take his CNA certification test in May and hopes to stay on at Mercy as a co-worker in oncology or the ER.
“He’s extremely helpful and plays a big role for us,” said Sarah Collins, a registered nurse for inpatient oncology. “He’s our hands and feet most of the time.”