Louise Pothier and volunteer, Sierra
Toronto Western Hospital speech-language pathology practice leader Louise Pothier (L) with volunteer Sierra, who reaped the benefits of a change made in the work done by the program’s volunteers. (Photo: UHN)

The speech-language pathology (SLP) team is a busy one at UHN.  But Louise Pothier always has time for volunteers who want to give their time to others at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH).

Over the years, Louise has been one of the driving forces behind the SLP department's engagement and development of volunteers who have an interest in speech-language pathology.

​National Volunteer Week
April 23 – 29, 2017

Everyone is invited to take some time to recognize the volunteers in UHN departments, clinics, units, waiting rooms and at information de​sks.

When Louise became a practice leader at TWH in 2012, she started to look at new ways of having volunteers help patients.

"We had a lot of awesome volunteers, but I felt that we were under-utilizing them," says Louise, noting the department receives a large number of requests from students interested in volunteering.

Sierra, a volunteer at TWH from November 2014 through July 2016, is the perfect illustration of how volunteers have benefitted from learning under Louise's leadership.  

Tapping into a volunteer's creativity

Sierra assisted patients and staff regularly as part of the meal-time assistance program and the swallowing clinic.   One day Louise mentioned that there was a patient who could benefit from more social contact in the ICU.

Under the guidance of the ICU Speech-Language Pathologist Hayley Herman, Sierra was able to bring her own ideas to the table as she knew the patient well through visiting her many times.

"Sierra's creativity allowed us to design a unique communication system for a patient with very limited movement," Louise says.

"Sometimes when a patient is unable to speak, we design communication boards," says Louise, noting the communication boards need to capitalize on the individual patient's unique abilities, challenges and interests.

"Volunteers have the time to practice with different communication tools and provide helpful input into what they are noticing during attempts to communicate," Louise says.

"One volunteer who had skills in Mandarin helped us to create a Mandarin communication board that the patient could use for socializing with his family.  Another volunteer who is proficient in technology helped us last year to create a useful catalogue of previous communication boards."

'We were able to provide better care for this patient'

Sierra leaped at the opportunity to become involved in the creation of a unique communication board to assist a patient who had good comprehension and cognition, but limited wrist movement that hindered reaching over to a traditional board with letters.

"I have a background in graphic design and felt that I had the skills to do this," Sierra says. "I had the idea of arranging the board in a circular fashion.

"There are three rings, the innermost ring has vowels, the middle ring has the most commonly used consonants, and the outermost ring has the remaining consonants.  It was a success.  Communication was much better and as a result, we were able to provide better care for this patient."

This is just one example of how Louise recognizes the unique skills volunteers bring to UHN and the importance of developing volunteers who aspire to become speech-language pathologists.

"Stay committed and focused, work hard," Louise advises each volunteer. "Become excited about what your career might bring and grasp every opportunity that will come your way."

Last September, Sierra was accepted into the Master of Health Science program in speech-language pathology at the University of Toronto.

Since then, new volunteers with an interest in speech-language pathology have followed in Sierra's footsteps.

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