My first professional job upon earning my Ph.D. in social psychology was Director of Marketing Research at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida. My job duties were to analyze the attitudes, opinions, and beliefs of all the hospitals’ constituents: (1) patients; (2) the community at large (the hospital’s source of patients); (3) the medical staff; and (4) employees. My job required me to develop, administer, statistically analyze, then report results of surveys. Upon my arrival at the hospital, I was told that my top priority was to obtain statistically valid and reliable data from as many patients as possible, soon after their discharge from the hospital. I devised a method by which 100% of all patients received, via U.S. Mail, a brief survey that allowed them to rate their satisfaction with their hospital experiences on a variety of dimensions. This survey was returned to me (postage paid, as an incentive for people to complete it), yielding hundreds of surveys for me to analyze each month. In the 1980s, there were no simple means of entering data from hundreds of surveys, such that I was soon faced with a crisis of having insufficient time to enter, one by one, all of the survey data that arrived in my office on a daily basis. I asked my boss, who asked his boss, who asked the hospital CEO, if someone could be hired to enter survey data. The answer was a firm “No.” Ever resourceful, I decided to procure a hospital volunteer (who, in those days, were called, “Pink Ladies”) to be my data entry clerk. My search was soon rewarded. I was assigned a man, named Britt Sheally, who was far from resembling anything pink or anything ladylike, to help me by entering all of my data from the patient surveys. At the time he began volunteering in the marketing department, Britt was an 85 year old former executive of a large insurance company. He wanted to volunteer at Baptist Medical Center because he credited the hospital with saving his life following heart related problems. Britt was thrilled to be assigned to the corporate office in the hospital because the work environment was similar to that with which he was familiar. The challenge I faced, of course, was training an 85 year old on how to use a computer. Have you ever trained an 85 year old person to do something he or she has never done before? Well, I have! And, as long as the trainee is willing to learn and the trainer has the ability to communicate in ways meaningful to someone who has no idea about the subject matter, I know from first hand experience that it can be done! Not only did Britt learn how to use a computer to become an excellent data entry person, I learned a lot in the process. Britt and I soon became good friends. I delivered the eulogy at his funeral (at the age of 92) and, as I write this post, I am looking at a photo David took of Britt and me when Britt proudly received the “Hospital Volunteer of the Year” award due to his fantastic work on the patient satisfaction surveys. Things have a way of working out, don’t they?
I remember Britt as smiling, cheerful, and a true southern gentleman. The photo I took of him had him showing off his suspenders under his suit coat. I don’t know if Britt ever wore the pink lady jacket that the few men who were volunteers were expected to wear at that time, but he was otherwise a “snappy” dresser. Part of this story is that Melissa and I “worked together” long before starting Magnus. She was an employee of a hospital that was one of my clients as a photographer. This meant I photographed lots of people with whom I had little other contact. And, I photographed lots of employee or volunteer awards. So, while Melissa had the obvious pleasure of getting to know Britt, my contact was very limited with him and others with whom I interacted via my camera. But, Britt’s story was intriguing – male hospital volunteers were then pretty rare. And, to consider how a volunteer group wisely found a way to make appropriate use of a business executive by putting him in a business environment, even for a menial task, says good things about the people running the volunteer program. Someone like Britt would not have wanted to do many of the traditional volunteer tasks like delivering flowers or monitoring surgical waiting rooms. But, to be in on the action in the marketing department was something else. It was good for him, and in more ways than data entry, it was great for Melissa, and it was good for the hospital that was smart enough to use the talents he had. Smile on Britt!