How to Find Joy Through Volunteer Service

Penny Miller

Penny Miller , RN, MSN, FNP

Emergency Medicine Nurse Practitioner, Methodist Hospital of Sacramento

Published June 19, 2017

As providers, we work in high-stakes, high-intensity environments where burnout is easy to come by. It’s easy to lose perspective and get wrapped up in the grind of our daily work. Sometimes, it takes pulling ourselves outside of our routines to reawaken our passion and joy for medicine.

Perspectives recently sat down with this month’s Vituity Hero, Penny Miller, FNP. The award celebrates unsung heroes of Vituity the providers who make a unique and honorable contribution to their communities.

Penny does just that. She’s an integral member of Vituity’s ED team at Methodist Hospital of Sacramento. She was honored as a Hero for her dedication to service both at home and around the world. We’ll share how Penny serves those in need, her inspiration for volunteering, and how she finds joy.

Perspectives: Can you tell us about the community service projects you’re working on?

Penny: Most recently, I returned from an international health mission in a small village in the Andes. There, I served on the Healing Peru team in the community of Andahuaylillas. Healing Peru works in resource-scarce communities and was started by the Family Practice Program at Lousiana State University.

Perspectives: How did you decide to work with Healing Peru?

Penny: Well, I’m a family nurse practitioner with over 20 years of experience. I wanted to work with an organization where I could use my skillset. And I wanted to give back in a meaningful way.

When looking into my options, I knew I wanted to work with an organization that was improving education and infrastructure. I didn’t want to give support that was just a drop in a bucket. Rather, I wanted to make an impact and contribution that was accepted by the community in need.

Perspectives: What type of service does Healing Peru provide to the community?

Penny: We provide comprehensive primary care through our clinics. And we see a variety of patients from infants to elderly with a range of ailments.

We serve people living “in town” at a clinic and also have a mobile clinic that travels to rural areas. That one largely serves the indigenous communities that often don’t receive quality health benefits. So there’s a real need there.

Perspectives: What’s the impact you’ve seen so far since working with Healing Peru?

Penny: I’ve now worked on the team serving the Andahuaylillas community for two years. In my first year, I travelled there for two weeks. In that time, our team was able to see and treat 1,500 patients!

Now, the project has totally grown. Our team is collaborating more with the Peru's Ministry of Health and a local medical school. The integration happening with the local community and resources is great to see.

Perspective: What are the goals of the health mission projects?

Penny: The goals are to link patients back to their health system and provide long-lasting educational resources. For example, we share with patients how disease can be spread through contaminated water.

We can’t just heal the world one Band-Aid at a time. Effective global health development is about changing systems. That’s why having the local groups on board and heavily involved with our work is so important. Anyone who’s worked in development knows how necessary connecting foreign aid to local infrastructure is for sustainability.

Perspectives: What’s your motivation for volunteering?

Penny: First, I’m really grateful I am able to have the opportunity to do this service. The only way I can do this work is because Vituity is so supportive.

I’m extremely passionate about helping patients, especially those who may not have another way to receive care. I get a great deal of satisfaction in using my skills and training to heal people.

I also know that I’ve been so lucky in my life and have had many opportunities. It’s always been instilled in me to do what I can to help others. I know I have an obligation to make the world better.

Perspectives: What other volunteer projects have you taken on? Anything closer to home?

Penny: There’s plenty to do at home for sure. For example, I regularly volunteer with Rock Medicine, which supports large concerts and rave events.

Rock Medicine volunteers treat many injuries and illnesses on site. Without our help, patients would be sent to a local ED. Without our help, the local EDs often get overrun. So, we not only help the patients but also help systemically by reducing the number of ED visits.

Perspectives: Has your service changed the way you practice medicine?

Penny: It's definitely energized me and fueled my sense of personal mission. When you’re serving patients in a volunteer capacity, it’s all about the medicine. You use your skills to help someone in need just because you want to.

It’s really refreshing, and it helps give you a new perspective on how big of an impact you can make. Also, you value and appreciate the resources you do have at your hospital a lot more.

Perspectives: What advice would you give to a fellow provider looking to reinvigorate their joy in medicine by volunteering?

Penny: Recognize that you have a lot of talents and skills that others need. Then, thoughtfully pursue opportunities to aid those with less access to care.

Find a cause or two you're passionate about. Listen to the needs of that community. Then, get going! There are so many ways to give.

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