Mohit sitting in chair
Mohit, a UHN Volunteer at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, says his interaction with patients "means the world to me." (Photo: Volunteer Resources)

An early, 90-minute commute is daunting to most students, but not for UHN volunteer Mohit, who makes the trip from Maple, northwest of Toronto, to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Every Monday, he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to arrive at the Lung, Skin, and Sarcoma Clinic when the doors open for patients. His regular volunteer duties include setting up exam rooms, completing administrative tasks, greeting patients, and taking them to other appointments across the hospital.

The fourth-year biology student says the early morning wake-up and long subway ride helps him empathize with patients, who often face numerous obstacles on their way to the hospital.

"Many patients have long commutes when they come to the Princess Margaret and they often have multiple appointments in one day," says Mohit. "It can be very draining for them, so I enjoy helping them as much as possible."

April 7 to 13 is National Volunteer Week across Canada, a chance to formally recognize all that volunteers do.

'Quiet heroes'

At UHN, in 2018 alone, more than 3,100 volunteers donated 291,133 hours – equal to 12,130 days. They range in age from teenagers to those in their 90s and assist patients, families, visitors and UHN staff in corporate, clinical, inpatient, waiting room, emergency, rehab and group therapy, administrative and retail settings.

"Volunteers are essential members of TeamUHN and the quiet heroes of every hospital," says Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN President & CEO. "We wouldn't be where we are today without our 3,100+ amazing volunteers making a difference across care, research and education – improving the lives of those we're privileged to care for and those who work here.

"We owe them our deepest gratitude."

Mohit enjoys making the most of his interactions with the patients, whether it's greeting them at reception or escorting them to an exam room or another clinic across Princess Margaret. Many regular patients even call Mohit by his nickname, "Mo," whenever they see him.

"It's the little things that count for me through human interaction," says Mohit. "The difference between a good day and a bad day can be a smile, 'hello', or five minutes of listening to their stories.

"Patients with cancer are often facing the darkest times in their lives. If I can make their life or experience easier with the smallest difference that means the world to me because I know I've made a positive contribution to my community."

Feel like part of the team

Mohit was drawn into oncology after taking several courses in immunology and microbiology at York University. He is also a long-distance runner who has participated in many runs dedicated to fundraising for cancer research.

After eight months of volunteering at the clinic, Mohit advises other students interested in healthcare to make the most out of the opportunities provided at a teaching hospital.

"I would recommend that they get as much exposure as possible to the health care system," says Mohit.

He also praises the clinic staff who value his contributions and have taken him in as one of their own.

"The medical staff make me feel like I'm part of the team and I really enjoy the learning experience that I get while volunteering at Princess Margaret." says Mohit. "The team truly care for their patients and they represent what I aspire to be one day as an oncologist."

Over the past several months, Mohit's volunteer journey has been full of memorable moments and impact, but his own marathon towards a career in medicine is just beginning.

Mohit has been accepted to medical school with an entrance scholarship.

UHN Volunteers – By the Numbers

  • UHN has 3,100+ volunteers annually
  • 60 per cent are post-secondary students
  • In 2018, they donated 291,133 hours across UHN hospitals
  • 487 UHN Research volunteers donated 80,371 hours, averaging about 165 hours each
  • Volunteers assist in more than 150 clinics and inpatient units
  • In 2018, Volunteers assisted 333,012 patients, family members and visitors
  • Navigators assisted 73,924 patients and visitors get to their designated area in the hospitals
  • More than 1,900 volunteers are in inpatient/outpatient programs, giving 117,788 hours to direct, patient-centred care

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