Nicole Gehret stands with the flower cart she delivered to patients at Chandler Regional Medical Center this summer. [Submitted photo]

Submitted photo

Seton Catholic Prep sophomore Nicole Gehret didn’t spend her summer by the pool or taking a family vacation like many 15-year-olds would. Instead, she spent her summer doing work for others.

Gehret passed her summer days by volunteering at Dignity Health’s Volunteen Summer Program at Chandler Regional Medical Center. She first found out about the program while volunteering at the American Red Cross last year.

One of the girls she was volunteering with, who was a member of the Volunteen program at the time, told Gehret about it.

“I knew automatically the next year I would be applying to it,” Gehret said.

The application process was rigorous. First, applicants must have a minimum 3.5 GPA and two letters of recommendation from nonfamily members. They then must submit an essay and then participate in a group interview. Even getting through those hurdles is no guarantee of acceptance. Of the 321 students who applied this year, only 191 got in and only about 50 percent were new volunteers said Barb Farmer, who runs the Volunteen program.

Farmer said the program is so exclusive because of all of the educational experiences the program offers, including tours of the pharmacy and informational sessions with renowned doctors among others.

Farmer said the experience opens doors to the medical field.

“I think the good majority of (volunteers) definitely stay in health care career fields,” Farmer said.

The volunteers are required to serve 40 hours in the program, but Gehret did well more than that, donating 80 hours of her time.

“I always want to do more, there’s always more work to do in community service,” Gehret said. “I could have settled for the minimum, but I wanted to give back and if I have an opportunity of where I can help others, I want to take that.”

A typical day for Gehret started in the gift shop. She and a partner would prepare flowers that they would go around and deliver to the patients on all the different floors of the hospital.

“You have to understand the people there are under the worst circumstances possible,” Gehret said. “To have one of the volunteens giving them flowers is probably one of the best parts of their day.”

Gehret plans to apply for the program again the next two years through her senior year.

The experience has sparked her interest in medicine. She said biology was one of the classes that she was particularly interested in and plans to become a surgeon one day.

“Surgery is one of those things where you’re presented with a problem and you can solve it directly,” Gehret said. “It’s not like other forms of medicine where it takes years to eventually get to a solution like in research. It’s something where you can really see the results and the impact that you’re making.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or Follow him on Twitter at @Eric_Smith__.

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