FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- As Brooke Army Medical Center's number-one priority is to provide the very best care and services for our patients, it also recognizes the importance of BAMC volunteers and the important role they play for the well-being of patients and their families.

One of many volunteer opportunities BAMC offers is the Listener Program, which provides a cadre of trained volunteers to listen to patients as they cope with the challenges of their injuries or illness.

Studies have shown human contact and sharing stories that address fears often associated with illness, have a positive impact on the immune system and help the healing process.

In 1996, BAMC Volunteer Service chief Jessica Veilleux, BAMC ward coordinator Richard Harder and retired social worker Hal Allen realized the potential of the research and collaborated to establish the program.

"Listeners want to hear the patients' stories because they know this helps the patients find meaning to their illness or injury," Veilleux said. "Being attentive and accepting also helps patients feel valued as a whole person.

"Listening has a powerful impact on a patient's sense of identity and ability to discover their personal strengths."

Veilleux said the outcome of patient care such as discharge plan, patient's rights, or referrals to the health care team may be influenced by the listener's insight when it is shared with staff.

"For example, a volunteer may discover a patient was too stressed to comprehend their diagnosis and hasn't slept for days fearing a terminal illness that does not exist," Veilleux said.

"The trained volunteer informs staff of the patient's misunderstanding, enabling the doctor to better explain the diagnosis and treatment opportunities," Veilleux added. "The patient now understands how to care for his or her health, sleeps better, and looks forward to living longer."

Allen noted the Listener Program volunteers are essential to the patients at BAMC. They provide the missing communication link between the patients and their caregivers to optimize their care and services.

"This job is more rewarding to me than anything I have ever experienced," said Jerry Jarvis, Listener coordinator since 2004. "Just getting a 'thank you' and a smile from patients and their families is enough for me to enjoy what I do.

"I love being with people and it makes me feel good knowing I can make a difference in the lives of BAMC patients and their families," Jarvis added.

The members of the Listener Volunteer Program all believe the listener's job can be overwhelming at times, but the satisfaction of helping Soldiers and seniors inspires them to volunteer.

"Having love and passion for people and to see the patients' appreciation for your service is what makes the job most rewarding," said Bobby Mathis, BAMC Listener since 2007.The Listener Program is looking for volunteers who can "lend an ear" for patients and their families in a medical environment. The program offers monthly training seminars to help them improve their communication skills with patients.

The ward staff needs volunteers who are retired and who have had personal experiences where listening was the act of compassion needed for healing, added Veilleux. The BAMC staff appreciates the importance of the program and often refers them to the patient's bedside.

For the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life and for people who enjoy listening to others, call BAMC Volunteer Service at 808-4980/4982 for more information.