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Member Spotlight

AHVRP Member Spotlight
November, 2018


Melissa Heinlein, PhD, CAVS
Chief, Voluntary Service
Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center
Philadelphia, PA









We asked Melissa these questions.

How many beds does your facility have?

How many volunteers does your facility have?

How many direct reports do you have?

You presented two highly-rated concurrent sessions at the 50th Annual AHVRP Conference & Exposition. We will soon be opening up the call for presentations at the 2019 conference. Any suggestions for people considering submitting?

“You probably keeping saying to yourself “Should I?” or “Shouldn’t I?” in terms of submitting a proposal to present at a conference. If you keep asking yourself this question, then trust me that you should. I had a conversation with a colleague several years ago and toyed with the idea of presenting. But I was the one standing in my way. I thought “Who wants to hear what I have to say?”  or “What topic would I present?” The bottom line is that it is your voice, your experience, your best practice, your policy, etc. that you are sharing. A good tip I can give is to start on a smaller scale like your state organization, local DOVIA, a college course in human services and a lecture is about volunteers. Trust what you know. My colleague helped ignite a confidence that I didn’t think I had, but once I started, it became fun, not stressful. As a result, I’ve been submitting conference proposals ever since. Do I get nervous?  Absolutely. Do I have doubt sometimes? Of course. But you will never know the power of YOU unless you try.”

Tell us why you got into health care volunteer resource management.

“I started out as a "volunteer" volunteer coordinator for an equestrian therapy program when I was working in the corporate world. Every Friday after work and on Sunday afternoons, I volunteered helping our clients with their horseback riding lessons. I am by no means an equestrian, but the beauty of those animals brought out the best in our clients and volunteers.  

I was drawn to this field for its creativity and passion for helping others and soon realized that I was inspired to work with volunteers as a career. I had no idea that when I first start learning about volunteerism that this was actually a career until I went to my first conference back in 1999 through our local DOVIA.  After several nonprofit jobs, I finally applied for a position in Volunteer Resources for a very large community hospital because I wanted to work in health care. My dad was a pharmacist and my mom a nurse so it seemed natural that I, too, could work in health care but in a different way.”

What is your most successful program and why?

“We started piloting our Tails of Valor program in June 2017. The organization rescues puppies who can be trained as service dogs for our Veterans. Each week, the puppies made a visit to our hospital. Their visits are amazing for staff, patients, visitors, and volunteers. We had a Joint Commission survey in July 2017 and you should have seen all the staff during the visit for stress relief!  We love watching the puppies grow and do amazing things to support Veterans. It's been inspiring to see the dogs then be matched with Veterans.

The program has grown to now offer animal-assisted therapy and intervention sessions to our Veteran population. Through our department, we received support from our Chief of Staff and hospital leadership to implement this program which is aligned with whole-health initiatives. We formed a small clinical team comprised of a physician, nurses, and educators.  We kicked off our animal-assisted therapy sessions around Veteran's Day 2018. We can't wait to hear how our Veterans will do!”

Any words of wisdom would you would like to share with someone considering this profession?

“Know that there are never two days alike. You have the most amazing job by having the flexibility, creativity, and vision to make a difference in the lives of patients, family, visitors, staff, and volunteers.  You have the ability to make great things happen because of the role you serve. But also know that continuing education is crucial for our field. Never stop learning - take courses, write articles, present research, partner with academia so they can learn more about what we do and why we do it. Engage in the field on a scholarly level so they we can continue demonstrating the value of the work we do.”

Past Spotlights:

October, 2018

August, 2018

July, 2018

June, 2018

May, 2018

April, 2018

March, 2018

February, 2018

January, 2018

November, 2017

October, 2017

September, 2017

August, 2017

July, 2017

June, 2017

May, 2017


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