MANATEE -- Initially, it was Rylan Douthett's interest in anatomy and biology that attracted him to the medical field.
But a few weeks into the summer volunteer program at Manatee Memorial Hospital, the recent Lakewood Ranch High graduate discovered it involves much more.
"I've really seen how much nurses, doctors and staff have a passion for helping people," he said.
Now, Douthett is planning a future in medicine because of the science, and the service opportunities it offers.
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Douthett is one of dozens of Manatee County teens involved in summer programs at hospitals in the county.
Manatee Memorial and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, both owned and operated by Universal Health Care, each offer an eight-week volunteer program for youths between the ages of 15 and 18. Students must have a 3.0 grade point average and be willing to work a minimum of four hours a week. Manatee Memorial has 70 teens in the program this summer while Lakewood Ranch has 25.
Bradenton's Blake Medical Center, a privately owned hospital, has 50 teens participating in its Teen Volunteer Program this summer. The program also is for teens ages 15-18 who have at least a 3.0 GPA. Teens work in various departments, from administration to the emergency room, and must work a minimum of four hours per week.
Douthett, 17, has volunteered in the hospital's stroke center and cardiac center, assisting nurses with equipment, re-stocking shelves and interacting with patients. He would like to pursue a career in the surgical field.
Meghan Donaghy, a 16-year-old rising junior at Cardinal Mooney High School, is in her second stint with the
summer program at Lakewood Ranch. Donaghy has volunteered in the case management department, helping patients during discharge and admission, and also volunteers in the reception area. She would like to become an obstetrician.
Hailei Kata, 15, a rising sophomore at Manatee School of the Arts, is volunteering at Blake's food service department, where she helps prepare foods for hundreds of patients and staff. She plans on joining the military.
The volunteers have obtained skills and experience they hope will help them earn college admittance and potentially be useful in the job world.
"They learn how to be in a work environment," said Louise Cannon, director of case management at Lakewood Ranch. "You can go into business and still gain from this."
"It gives them an opportunity to learn about the medical field," said Wendy Rogers, director of volunteer services at Blake.
The students said they've gained a sense of purpose through their involvement with an important service to society.
"I didn't think I'd be as involved as I am," Douthett said.
"The patients want someone to talk to because they don't have a lot of visitors," said Donaghy.
Kata plans to volunteer each summer until she graduates. Next year, she will return to the food service department.
"I like the people there," she said.
And she's learned firsthand the stereotype about hospital food is far from the truth.
"The hospital food here is really good," she said with a smile. "I'm not going to lie."
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter: @_1NickWilliams.