Stephani Wolfe stepped into a white jumpsuit, zipped up and slipped into the Central Services clean assembly area on Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus. Rumor has it she looked a bit like she was on her way to bust some ghosts.
In reality, she donned the duds to help bust something else: barriers.
Wolfe, an academic success advisor at Mayo Clinic, had ventured to Central Services as a first step in preparing to welcome a new student doing a clinical rotation through the Hospital Central Service program at GateWay Community College. Unlike the other students who recently completed rotations in the unit, this student — Lisa Yem — is hard of hearing. Wolfe's tour would help her learn the job requirements and specialized vocabulary of the area so she could help ensure Lisa's success.
Also working ahead was Scott Daughetee, the education coordinator in Central Services, which sterilizes supplies and equipment used on patient care units. Though Daughetee says he was initially "a little apprehensive" about finding ways to accommodate a student who is hard of hearing, that feeling quickly gave way to excitement about the possibilities. "Scott was really open to being creative," Wolfe says.
Before her first day at Mayo Clinic, Lisa met with Daughetee, Wolfe, her GateWay Community College program director and an interpreter. They discussed ways to bridge the communication differences between Lisa and others on the unit, including using lip reading and written notes. They also considered ways Lisa could work differently, such as setting vibrating timers to alert her when to check equipment since she might not be able to hear the timers on the equipment itself. The group decided that Lisa would initially have an interpreter to help deliver some of the content she would need to learn to get her off to a solid start.
The minor accommodations have had a major impact on Lisa. "It took me a long time to gather the courage to go into the medical field," she tells us. "I'm happy that I decided to take on the challenge because I've realized that there are people out there who will help you make it work even if it takes a little extra time to train or communicate."
Lisa's experience has also had an impact on Daughetee and his colleagues. "There were doubters in our department at first," Daughetee says. "But as Lisa began to succeed, I noticed more employees engaged in her progression. I think Lisa really helped our department not only look at things differently, but also look at what it truly means to be inclusive. These are the types of events that help shape a culture."
They also help shape lives. After Lisa completed her rotation, she met with her program director to discuss the experience. She "was gleaming and had the biggest smile, almost in tears as she spoke of your department's teamwork, development of sensitivity to her needs, inclusiveness, and reaching out from the staff," the director wrote in a note to Daughetee's supervisor. "Truly as she spoke to me yesterday, I saw a new person."
And one who hopes to be back at Mayo soon. "My goal," Lisa tells us, "is to become a full-time employee at Mayo Clinic." (We have a hunch there are more than a few Mayo staffers rooting for her.)
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