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Everyday Hopkins


I have always been interested in health care, especially how people are educated about their health and how they can obtain the care they need when they need it. I’m sure this spawned from my family’s involvement in the field: my dad’s a family physician; my mom was a medical transcriptionist; and my aunt’s a physician’s assistant.

I obtained my undergraduate degree in public relations and my graduate degree is in women’s studies, with a concentration in women’s health. When I started taking women’s studies courses as an undergrad, I learned and studied a lot about race, class, gender and how they can affect an individual’s level of health, education and even access to quality care. During undergrad I did an internship in public relations at a local hospital back in Pennsylvania. My supervisor knew that women’s health was an interest of mine, so he let me spend a day at the clinic where people who were uninsured or underinsured could access care. While there, the clinicians were telling me stories about women who had come in with health issues because they were using Lysol to clean themselves. It really struck me, “How did they learn this? Where did they learn this?”

When I started working at a nonprofit health care organization right out of grad school, it was really about helping populations get the health care and information they needed. I later came to Johns Hopkins in January 2015 as a web content specialist for the Department of Orthopedic Surgery. What I liked most about the role was being able to write and provide people with health information, so that if they had some type of condition and came to our website, they would be able to figure out “ok, this is what’s happening to me, or this is what I’m feeling, or these are the symptoms I’m having,” and then get to the person who could provide them with the best care.

I am now a web production and training specialist on the Internet Strategy and Web Services team for Johns Hopkins Medicine, which is part of the Marketing and Communications Department. Our team offers support to website editors throughout Johns Hopkins Medicine who need to edit a portion of their site, have questions about best practices, or who are looking to initiate a web project.

One of the best parts of my job is getting to work alongside my amazing coworkers. I actually always tell people that I work with the most fun and diverse group. Everyone is so on top of their game here. You always feel like everyone’s doing their part and it’s really just a great environment to be in.

I grew up on a farm in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. My grandparents lived right next door to our house (my brother and his wife live there now) and the farm has been in our family since my dad himself was younger. Later in life I’d love to have my own version of a “farmette,” with a mini pig and mini goat and a big garden!

Coming from a very rural area, my family has always been really crafty. We would make things we needed (clothes, toys, furniture) or just learn to do things ourselves. Around the age of 6, my mother and grandmother taught me how to crochet and make blankets and things on looms. When I started knitting, I was around 19 or 20. My mom taught me that as well, and when I got started, I made some really ugly things! But I just kept trying and trying and I got way better at it.  It’s even become a form of Zen for me.

Over time, I didn’t need more hats and scarves for myself, and started to think about how cool it would be if I made items that someone I didn’t know somewhere loved it enough to buy it. It was about three years ago that I opened my Etsy store, and it’s become a really fun hobby-business! But for me, it will always be rooted in how I learned my craft. It’s a skill that I’ve learned from the women in my family and plan to pass on to my own family someday.

Hear Jill's favorite part about her role as a web production and training specialist.

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"Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence." -Carol McLeod

"Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence."

I have spent the last 30 years of my life with people in the very last moments of life. I know this would be uncomfortable for some people, but I believe it is my calling.

I spent my early adult years supporting my husband in graduate school, raising three wonderful children and singing in local musical ensembles. When my children graduated from college, I went back to school — first exploring music therapy, and then nursing. I graduated as a registered nurse at age 50 and went on to be what I was meant to be — a hospice nurse.

Back in those days, in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, we were unsure of what we were dealing with, but there were so many patients who needed our care, and we did our best to keep them pain-free and comfortable.

An inpatient hospice facility isn’t a frightening place. It’s actually quiet and loving, and the family members of the patients tend to bond together to form a village of sorts. They share their pain and grief in ways that many people never understand.

But family can’t be there day and night, and sometimes patients pass away when their loved ones are at home getting much-needed rest or dealing with the reality of their lives. Without fail, these family members always wanted to know who was with their loved one at the end. It was important to them that nurses and other hospice staff members were there to gently guide their family member to the other side.

Now I’m 82, and I’ve been volunteering at Suburban Hospital for almost 10 years. My “day job” is in the Emergency Department, where I’m a greeter, gopher and helper. I also serve on the Patient and Family Advisory Council.

I am also proud to serve on the No One Dies Alone Committee. NODA is a special program that provides dying patients with a companion if they don’t have friends or family nearby. No medical care is involved, so NODA volunteers come from many different departments here at Suburban.

What a privilege it is to sit with people who are in the last hours of their lives and help them find peace. I hold their hands and hum my favorite songs to them. Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence.

I truly believe there’s nothing more fulfilling and meaningful than helping a person die peacefully and quietly. It is a true gift.

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170301 Bryan Rexroad_7849

Bryan Rexroad handles dozens of calls every day from patients or doctors seeking appointments and information.

I’ve always been a really open person. I can talk to anyone. Whenever I train somebody to be a patient access specialist, I always tell people: Just talk to patients as if they’re people. I think that’s the biggest key — to be open and treat everyone almost like they’re your friend.

When people find out I work in a call center, they usually ask me what kind. I’ll tell them “Johns Hopkins,” and that kind of explains most of it: making appointments for doctors, triaging calls, stuff like that. So it’s not something unimportant. You’re actually making a difference in people’s lives by doing it.

The call room I work in is pretty small. It’s located inside the Wilmer Eye Institute, and there are five of us in there, and I’m training someone, so six total. We have our own little fridge and microwave and our desks. That’s about it. We walk in there straight in the morning, and walk out straight at night.

I’d say the average person here does 70 to 100 calls a day. That’s just a guess. It probably takes about 10 seconds to figure out whether a call is going to be easy or challenging. We get anything from somebody who must have a routine eye exam, so they just want glasses, to someone having an urgent issue, like they’re seeing floating spots, flashing lights — all these symptoms that could lead to something.

It’s always nice to have someone in good spirits when they call. A lot of the elderly people like to tell really bad puns and jokes, which I do as well. Just small-talk jokes. I’ll ask them if they have a good callback number and they’ll say, “No, I just have a regular one.”

Every once in a while, people will hang up on you. They’ll be like: “Okay, bye.” And just hang up. You have to understand that patients can be upset and frustrated. You have to have empathy and understand where they’re coming from. I know if I was losing my sight, I’d probably be frustrated with many things.

My favorite types of calls are, honestly, providing the appropriate information. That’s usually a big stress relief. It’s always really nice when somebody starts off super grumpy, and then you help them out and they’re the most thankful people that you’ve helped.

Call centers are hard to describe. I had no idea what this work would be like. I certainly didn’t know much about the eyes, and now I train people. I’ve been here almost a year. I’m 23 years old. I feel like once you get past that six-month point, that’s when you stick around for a bit.

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Assistant cook Jennie Humbles slices and dices the fruits and vegetables that end up on the dinner plates of Johns Hopkins Medicine patients, family members, faculty and staff. She also sings with Unified Voices, a choir made up of Johns Hopkins employees and community members that sings at, among other events, our yearly MLK Commemoration.

Assistant cook Jennie Humbles prepares the fruits and vegetables that end up on the dinner plates of Johns Hopkins Medicine patients, family members, faculty and staff. When she's not working at The Johns Hopkins Hospital central kitchen, she's singing with Unified Voices, a choir of Johns Hopkins employees and community members that sings at, among other events, our yearly Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration.

We prepare the produce: the fruit, salad … everything gets washed. We have to weigh everything to make sure it’s the right amount. We have cantaloupe, pineapple and honeydew. On onion day, you’d be crying, honey! We also do food prep for Suburban and Howard County General Hospital. Yeah, Johns Hopkins does it all.

I’ve been in Unified Voices for over 20 years; it’s a community choir. We even have police, nurses, doctors, an intern. Anybody can come and join. Johns Hopkins sponsors us. It’s like a spiritual choir that helps people when they’re in need of a little love, you know? It’s like a pill — you have to take your medicine today. It’s like a pill that will heal your soul.

I’ve been singing ever since I was small because we used to have shows on the weekend for my father and mother. My parents would say make a joyful noise — whatever you sing, sing from your heart. My special song when I’m down and I’m feeling low is “I want Jesus to walk with me.”

When we sing for patients [at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration], it’s telecast to The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview. See, that’s why I love working at Johns Hopkins, that’s why I love being with the patients. Because you know, they say thanks — no, don’t thank me! I thank you because we can share this moment together. And the patients, you should see their smiles. I like it when they smile. Some of them just got off of not eating anything by mouth. You know the first time they eat, they have to eat slowly; you’ve got to take time. We can open our refrigerator, go in there and get what we want out. But these patients can’t. They’ve got to wait for the food to be delivered to them. It’s like we’re their guardian angels to hear, to soothe their souls. So we can help them. That’s the way I see it.

Know someone who'd make a great story for Everyday Hopkins? Send us your idea here.

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“Setting a daily goal is what works best for me.” -Samantha Simmons, NICU nurse

“Setting a daily goal is what works best for me.”
                          -Samantha Simmons, NICU nurse

My dad loves racquetball. He brought it with him to the East Coast. It’s much bigger on the West Coast. Initially, my sisters and I weren’t very interested; we’d go to the gym with him and play hide and seek. We’d usually hide in the women’s locker room, inside the lockers.

When we were 10 to 12, we started getting interested. In my junior career, I made the U.S. team four times over the course of six years. Last year in Seattle, I took the No. 4 player to four games and almost won the tiebreaker game. It felt great!

You can tell when someone is at these tournaments to have fun and loves the sport versus someone for whom it’s a job. My fiancé asked me, “What would you choose if you could choose one career?” I would choose nursing. Nursing makes me sane enough to go train. I love working in the neonatal ICU. I get to potentially save lives and change people’s lives here at work, and I also get to take personal satisfaction in sports.

Everybody in racquetball is for the most part very sociable and awesome to hang out with at the tournaments. My fiancé, Sebastian Franco, is a men’s professional racquetball player. We met and took an interest in each other at the junior world racquetball championships in 2009 in the Dominican Republic. He’s currently No. 8 in the world — he kicks my butt! He’s my coach right now.

Before a tournament, normally, you want to get to the gym at least four or five times a week, if only for at least an hour or two. Setting a daily goal is what works best for me. When I train and exercise, I have already planned which skills I want to work on and which cardio I am going to do.

Racquetball is 80 percent — some say 90 percent — mental. My junior coach said, “If you’re about to take a shot and you think you’re going to hit a bad shot or skip it, you are going to skip it or hit a bad shot.” And she’s right.

In general, I think it’s always best to think optimistically. It’s always calming to the parents when a nurse is positive. I don’t think we see this work as heroic. Obviously, it’s our job, but we just see it as something we love to do. I think my favorite part is when the babies finally get to go home. We have some babies who come for a week and some who are here for three to six months. These parents experience such high stress, and to see the excitement on their faces — there’s nothing more exciting than walking a baby downstairs to the front door and putting them in the car.

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