Hadia Bilal Ahmad, a nurse, stands in a hallway at Michael Garron Hospital
Hadia Bilal Ahmad is a Registered Nurse (RN) who works in MGH's Stavro Emergency Department.

‘It helped me choose my future’: How volunteering at MGH helped one student pursue a career in healthcare

By Amanda Di Luch

As Hadia Bilal Ahmad walks through the halls of Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), she waves to passing nurses, says hello to the food vendor staff and gives patients directions. MGH is like a second home to her.

A full-time Registered Nurse (RN), Hadia spends most of her time at the hospital working night shifts in the Stavro Emergency Department (ED). However, her first experiences at MGH were quite different.

Growing up in the Don Valley East area, Hadia remembers visiting MGH, and in particular, the ED, as a child.

She says she was struck by the fast-paced energy of that space and the way staff work tirelessly and collaboratively to help patients.

“I witnessed nurses and doctors in the emergency room and how hardworking they were and thought to myself, ‘Wow, I wish I could do that. That is the best way to help out a community,’” she says.

These early experiences at MGH inspired Hadia to pursue a career in healthcare.

So, in high school, she decided to become a student volunteer at MGH – a path she says helped her eventually land her current role as a full-time nurse at the hospital.

The role of volunteers in patient care

Hadia volunteered at MGH for seven years. During this time, she assisted hospital staff in various areas to ensure they could meet the diverse needs of the community.

Eventually she became a team leader where she had the opportunity to train and guide the next generation of volunteers and further interact with and learn from staff.

In addition to supporting MGH’s workforce and fellow volunteers, Hadia played an important role in helping to comfort patients and their families.

“I gave people directions, took patients to their dialysis appointments, worked at the MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] reception area, made beds in the ED, updated family members about a surgery status and was essentially the mediator between staff and visitors,” she says.

Hadia says one of her goals of volunteering at MGH was to become more familiar with the hospital and healthcare system. She was also interested in improving her communication skills.

“I wanted to help people, learn about the healthcare system and get experience navigating the hospital,” she says.

Hadia says volunteering at MGH also helped her “choose my future” – a career in nursing where she could continue to help improve the experiences of patients.

“I was deciding between being a nurse or a doctor. Based on what I witnessed at MGH as a volunteer, I liked how the nurse is the first person to see a patient. This is one of the reasons I chose nursing,” she says.

Hadia was awarded two scholarships for her volunteer service, which she used towards her nursing degree.

She says the connections she made at MGH as a volunteer were key to helping her secure a nursing job after graduating.

“It is hard to get hired right out of nursing school without experience,” she says.

“But the network I had at MGH definitely helped me. I was already a familiar face in the hospital and had good references from the managers.”

Volunteer opportunities at MGH

From calming patients and helping them find their way on the day of a procedure to participating in various fundraising efforts, volunteers have a longstanding tradition of excellence and making a difference at MGH.

MGH accepts student and adult volunteers to improve patient experiences and complement the exemplary care provided by staff and physicians.

Currently, the hospital has more than 500 volunteers who range in age from 14 to 90 years old.

“Volunteers at MGH proudly contribute to the patient and family experience during a visit to the hospital. Whether it’s providing directions, helping answer questions or simply offering a friendly smile, their efforts go a long way in reducing anxiety for patients and their families,” says Denny Petkovski, Director of Corporate Projects and Volunteer Services at MGH.

“They are an essential part of the hospital team and the East Toronto community.”

Most people who begin volunteering at MGH stay for a long time. Some have celebrated over decades of service.

“MGH is a great place to volunteer because it’s a welcoming community and everyone is very kind, supportive and respectful,” Hadia says.

Hadia is still in touch with the other students that volunteered with her at MGH. Many of them also went on to become nurses or other professions in healthcare.

“Because of the relationships we built at MGH, we continue to stay in touch,” she says.

Hadia’s story demonstrates that the benefits of volunteering at MGH extend beyond supporting hospital staff in improving the health and well-being of the community.

Volunteering can also equip you with the necessary skills and network to be successful in a health-related field.

Hadia’s choice to become a student volunteer at MGH was pivotal in her career – it’s what helped bring her to the frontlines as an emergency nurse.

“I would not be where I am today, helping the people I help, if I hadn’t made that choice to volunteer and be a part of MGH,” she says.

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