Coming Full Circle: From Volunteers to Medical Residents
Jun 26, 2024
Sutter Health
Low angle view of female therapist and senior male patient shaking hands at hospital ward

By Debbie Ritenour, Vitals contributor

Volunteering can be a powerful first step into the healthcare world, providing invaluable experiences and shaping future careers. For many it’s an opportunity to give back to the community, gain professional skills or explore potential careers in healthcare.

Neha Prakash, D.O.; Emilia Laing, D.O.; and Alejandro Rodriguez, M.D., all began their medical careers as volunteers at Sutter Health. Today, they have come full circle to complete their medical training as residents in one of Sutter’s residency programs.

Coming Home

Dr. Neha Prakash

Dr. Neha Prakash

After developing an interest in biology in high school, Dr. Prakash decided to learn more about the medical field by volunteering at Sutter Roseville Medical Center. She volunteered twice a week for two years, first in the nursery, NICU and postpartum department and then in the emergency department.

“They were two very different experiences, but with both of them, I learned a lot,” says Dr. Prakash. “The work felt very collaborative, and the hospital had a nurturing environment that focused on holistic patient care.”

The experience affirmed her desire to go to medical school. When it came time to apply for residency, she ranked the Sutter Roseville Internal Medicine Residency Program as one of her top choices. She was thrilled to match as a member of the incoming class.

“I’m excited to give back to the community that I grew up in,” Dr. Prakash says. “I’m looking forward to being a provider for those who have been with me in different phases of my life.”

Paving the Way

Dr. Emilia Laing

Dr. Emilia Laing

Dr. Laing began volunteering at Sutter Davis Hospital after graduating from the University of California, Davis. She knew she wanted to go to medical school, but first she hoped to gain some experience in patient care.

“I liked interacting with patients on all different levels, whether delivering flowers to postpartum moms or checking in on patients and seeing what they need and how we can help make their stay more comfortable,” says Dr. Laing, who volunteered in four-hour shifts twice a month for a year.

Dr. Laing graduated from medical school in May and is entering the Sutter Roseville Internal Medicine Residency Program this summer. She was impressed with how warm and welcoming everyone was during her interview. She’s also excited to be part of one of Sutter’s newest residency programs.

“I’m looking forward to helping shape it into a great place to train for future residents and medical students alike,” she says.

Supporting Patients and Families

Dr. Alejandro Rodriguez

Dr. Alejandro Rodriguez

Dr. Rodriguez discovered the importance of healthcare at a young age. His farmworker father lost two fingers in a tractor accident, but thanks to the excellent care he received, he was able to recover and continue providing for his family. The incident remained in the back of Dr. Rodriguez’s mind, and after deciding as an undergraduate to go into medicine, he started volunteering at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento.

“I loved it because I could do a little bit of everything,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “I really enjoyed talking to the patients and their families. When you take care of the family, you take care of the patient.”

Dr. Rodriguez joined the Sacramento track of the Sutter Family Medicine Residency Program in 2022. He says the supportive environment has helped him grow both personally and professionally.

“The faculty will teach you as much as you want to learn,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “Getting to know the other residents and growing with them is so rewarding. I’ve had a wonderful experience.”

Looking to Volunteer?

About 5,000 people volunteer throughout the Sutter Health network. Learn more about how to apply here:

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