All-hours health services care for partiers, provide experience

The Student Health Center brochure states: “The Health Center is open 24 hours each day during the academic year concurrently with housing and food service availability. Whitman College has the only 24-hour health center in the Pacific Northwest and is staffed both night and day with professional nurses.”

For most Whitties, a trip to the Health Center involves a check-up, strep throat testing, mono testing and medical advice. Some might go for nutritional counseling, lab tests, STD testing and even massage therapy.

While the Health Center is open 24/7, it is possible to have no idea what happens at the Health Center during the night hours.

Aside from seeing the occasional patient, during the week the night shifts at the Health Center consist of mainly generic jobs and hardly differentiate from the daytime shifts.

“There’s just some minor differences to make the flow work better so people know when it’s convenient to come. Really it’s pretty much the same,” said Nurse Lyda DeFoor.

On these slow nights, duties include chores and taking the sporadic phone call.

“There’s some housekeeping chores that need to be done such as restocking cupboards, things like that,” said DeFoor. “Answer the phone––sometimes there are things that I can take care of on the phone, people that just have a quick question about health or what time the doctor is going to be here.”

On the weekends, the night shift at the Health Center takes a dramatic turn. While most Whitties are out having fun during the weekend, nurses and students on duty at the Health Center have very different weekend nights and oftentimes take care of the negative side of partying.

“On a typical Friday night there will be anywhere from one to four substance abuse patients with the occasional crazy nights with five-plus patients,” said Woody Sorey, a senior who works night shifts at the Health Center.

“This involves physically getting them from the door to a bed, helping them in the bathroom, taking and monitoring their vital signs,” said Sorey. “And, after they’ve gone to sleep, making sure they’re lying in a way that prevents them from suffocating or choking on their vomit.”

Working at the Health Center during the night shift requires a lot of dedication and a high tolerance for being hands-on.

“The night shift consists of a lot of hands-on work,” said Sorey. “Allow me to reiterate that there is a lot of vomit!”

Although not frequent, emergencies do happen during the week and weekend night shifts, which require both the students and nurses on duty to be able to work under extreme pressure.

“They’re not too frequent,” said Nurse DeFoor. “We have allergic reactions, or people that have fallen and cut themselves, people that are very, very intoxicated that actually need to go to the emergency room … sometimes people bring in someone with sports injuries like head injuries, passing out, shortness of breath or fractured or dislocated bones.”

Dandi Huang, a senior BBMB major who has worked the 8 p.m.-11 p.m. shift, has witnessed intoxicated students brought in at all hours of the night.

“I don’t have too many crazy nighttime stories, but I have seen very intoxicated students being brought in before 9 p.m.,” said Huang. “I did monitor an intoxicated student that we ended up having to call the EMS for.”

Sorey described some of the patient attire he’s witnessed, patients apparently too intoxicated to pay any notice.

“I’ve had someone come in wearing nothing but their underwear, as well as someone wearing only a spandex onesie,” said Sorey. “The majority of patients, though, are just people who need a safe place to finish throwing up and to go to sleep.”

So what motivates the Health Center nighttime student staff to take care of intoxicated or hurt students, address emergencies and clean up messes? Both Huang and Sorey agree that one of the main benefits of working at the Health Center is acquiring skills and experience necessary in the medical field.

“I am pre-med, so working at the Health Center gives me some insight into how clinics work,” said Huang. “There’s a list of tasks that we’re supposed to learn like vitals, running rapid strep tests … so you definitely get some exposure to medical practice.”

Sorey, also a BBMB major, agrees that part of the appeal of his job is how great it looks on paper for medical schools.

“The primary and most obvious reasons are for a steady paycheck and to have something that looks great on an application for medical school … it’s great to learn and even get some practice with clinical procedures like cleaning wounds and doing diagnostic tests,” said Sorey.

Aside from medical experience, the students working at the Health Center have a passion to put their knowledge to use by helping other students.

“The reasons I love my job go far beyond that,” said Sorey. “I love my night shifts, where I get to help practice real medicine and be compassionate toward people who are having a really rough night.”

The staff at the Whitman Health Center, whether during the day or night, make it their goal to provide the students with accurate medical attention in a comfortable environment.

“Our main focus is to take care of the students,”  said Nurse DeFoor.

As the Student Health Center brochure states, “The College recognizes health maintenance and promotion as essential to both learning and efficiency … we combine high-quality health care with the warmth of a home away from home.”