A Welcome Presence

Senior Carl Swanson’s company brightens patients’ lives


Natalie Walsh

Carl Swanson sits beside a patient and comforts her during her stay at the hospital. He keeps patients company during their hospital stays, and makes sure their needs are met.

He enters the patient’s room. He’s the only other person in the room, besides the patient. He sits down by the patient, and listens intently as the patient talks, keeping the patient company where they wouldn’t have had any otherwise. He goes from room to room, checking in on each patient and making sure they get what they need. He checks on the patients who are alone, making sure they don’t feel lonely and have someone to talk to.

Senior Carl Swanson is a patient companion at St. Joseph’s Hospital. As a patient companion, Carl visits with patients who don’t have anyone to talk to or feel lonely. He sits with them, his presence something they can take comfort in.

He got his start as a patient companion during the summer. Swanson applied to volunteer at St. Joseph’s Hospital, as his sister, Erica Swanson, did before him. His sister took part in volunteer work at the hospital as well, and is part of the reason he decided to put his time into the hospital.

“This was over the summer, and I was bored, so my mom told me to volunteer at the hospital because that’s what my older sister had done too, and they just randomly assigned me to [be a patient companion],” Carl said.

This volunteering opportunity has grown from just something Carl does during his spare time, though. The patient companion work he does has helped Carl realize how much difference a seemingly small action, such as taking the time to talk to someone and pay them company, can make.

“For the longest time I never saw the effect, I just knew I was going in there, just listening; it was just like a lot of listening,” Carl recalls. “And then I talked to my sister and she told me these patients actually, they need something like this, it helps them feel not as lonely, it helps them feel comfortable and have their stay go by a little bit faster and be a little bit better.”

Carl’s older sister Erica is currently in UMKC’s 6-year medicine program, and also volunteered at the hospital. Her time spent volunteering at the hospital showed her the necessity of what people like Carl do for the patients, their listening and presence and the connections they build with the patients. While she was not part of the patient companion program, she explains the positive effects it has on both patients and companions alike.

These patients actually, they need something like this, it helps them feel not as lonely, it helps them feel comfortable and have their stay go by a little bit faster and be a little bit better.”

— Carl Swanson

“I feel like it really gets to the root of why many people choose medicine — to form these connections and sit and empathize with others during their most vulnerable times and just try to be of help,” Erica explains. “I think this is a great opportunity for anyone considering the healthcare field.”

Erica believes volunteering at the hospital is important not only to further a career in healthcare, but also teaches vital skills to participants. The experience with patients enhances the ability to converse and connect with people such as in the case of Carl.

“You can learn from the patients their view of the healthcare system and how to connect and have conversations with them. It’s a skill that’s so necessary these days in all fields, not just the healthcare profession,” Erica said.

The experience is a transformative one, not just for the patients, but also for Carl. Not only are the patients’ stays brightened by his presence, but Carl also learns vital skills from participating. His involvement allows him to connect with those he helps, and to meet and be exposed to a larger variety of different people.

“I think it just helps me connect with people, and that’s a big part of what I’ve learned from it, it was just connecting to a wider range of people: different ages, different ethnicities, different backgrounds and just learning about people like that,” Carl Swanson says.

In the end, though, Carl Swanson does it to better the community, brightening one patient’s stay at a time.

“I do it just because at this point I’ve realized it’s really beneficial for these people.”