Updated: Dec 31, 2020
While sitting in a chair at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I wait for the phone to ring. I pick up the device as soon as I hear the oh-so-familiar high-pitched tone and quickly bring it to my ear, “Hello, nurse’s station, how may I help you?” I know what I'm doing is important for Johns Hopkins Hospital, Pediatrics Emergency Department (PED), yet I can't help but wonder why I'm here. Could it be my interest in medicine? Potentially. The intent to do something meaningful? Definitely. Actually doing something meaningful? Not quite.
Throughout the summer of 2019 I volunteered at PED, hoping to make an impact and validate my passion for medicine. But, to my dismay, my impact was limited to restocking printers, sticker containers, and food cabinets, asking patients about the quality of their care, and transferring phone calls throughout the department. My days were very boring, except for the few times I would shadow doctors and witness them diagnosing patients, but even that became repetitive, and I would lose interest.
On some days, when the phone didn’t ring as frequently and the printers were all restocked, I would wander and find myself at a far corner in the emergency center. This area, I learned, was an outpost of Johns Hopkins’s “Green Team,” a group that implements sustainability initiatives throughout the hospital. One of these initiatives included a “K-Cup Bin” project, which provided a new bin specifically for recycling Keurig coffee machine plastics. I was intrigued.
With the Green Team’s initiatives in mind, I started to think of ways to further improve sustainability at Johns Hopkins Hospital. During my daily routine, I noticed that most paper ended up in the trash, as the recycling bins in PED only allow plastic or aluminum bottles and cans. I didn’t understand why nobody had tried to recycle paper. Now, I couldn't just sit in my chair and do busywork, when I knew I could do something meaningful.
I communicated with the Green Team via email, phone, and in-person and discovered that only classified paper, which gets shredded, was recycled. With an urge to make an impact, I created a sign with neon green and purple colors that read:
"ALL PAPER, REGARDLESS OF CONFIDENTIALITY, RECYCLES HERE."
I emailed it to the Green Team Leader and asked if it could be placed on the wall next to the shredder. The leader agreed that the sign would encourage doctors, nurses, and other staff members to throw their paper into the shredder, instead of the trash can. A couple of days later, I came in to volunteer on my Wednesday nine-to-noon shift and was so happy to find my colorful sign posted on the front of the shredder for everyone to see.
Looking at this piece of paper, I caught a glimpse of what my future could be. I never thought I would be able to influence one of the best hospitals in the world, but I did. Additionally, I recognized that I have a keen interest in the environment and sustainability, and I want to pursue this further.
And so, a wonderful year and a half later I am at F&M on track to becoming an environmental science major. It’s crazy to see how much I was influenced while working inside of a hospital and realizing how many flaws there are. For example, there is a predominant usage of styrofoam. Styrofoam is almost impossible to recycle and needs to be dealt with very specifically. I tried my best to start an initiative to form a separate bin for just styrofoam waste, but my 16 year old self could only do oh-so-much to influence Johns Hopkins hospital in a short, 2 month internship. Luckily, a year later, Maryland became the first state to make styrofoam illegal.
Industries prioritize lucrativeness over the detriment of the environment. Cafes, restaurants, hospitals, and other entities are extremely guilty of this. If we all sign petitions, email the local government and take action we can make a difference, as was done in Maryland. The first step is recognizing flaws, educating yourself on alternatives and seeing what action/steps can be taken to make a positive difference. The next step is taking action and making a difference.