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Penn Medicine and the Day in the Life Project: A Lesson in Scale

IMG_8896As a Digital Communications Editor, much — if not all — ofmy typical day is spent behind a keyboard in a regular office separate from ourclinical facilities. For someone who is relatively new to Penn Medicine, thiscan create issues of scale. You’re told from the very beginning that theUniversity of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) is huge, but with no realreference point to hold that statement against, it may lose some of its impact.

With that in mind, I approached this year’s Day in the Life project withenthusiasm. Along with Kim Menard — whohandled the mammoth tasks of scheduling and ensuring I didn’t get lost — Ispent Nov. 14 taking hundreds of pictures around the Hospital of the Universityof Pennsylvania (HUP) and Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Truly, there is no better crash course in learning the scaleof just one part of UPHS than wandering the entirety of HUP and the PerelmanCenter for Advanced Medicine over the span of a day. It is, simply put, aself-contained world. Hundreds of patients, thousands of employees, a helipad,a room-dominating pill-picker robot, a fascinatingly massive proton therapymachine that looks straight out of science fiction, a chapel, a cafeteria, arelaxation center … the list could run the length of this blog, easily.

Oh, and dogs. There were dogs.

IMG_8648The day started, fittingly, with an introduction to the veryfirst baby born at HUP on Nov. 14. He was only about two hours old, so ourvisit with him was brief. He’s one of approximately 4,400 babies that will beborn at HUP this year.

Not too long after that, we got to tag along with HUP’sPups, a volunteer group of therapy dogs that come to the hospital and visitpatients. At first it can be startling to see these dogs in a hospital setting,but you only need to see the joy these animals bring to patients once beforeyou understand their worth in the recovery process.

From there it was up to the helipad on HUP’s roof, where wegot to see a perfect view of the Philadelphia skyline — and, more importantly,PennStar in action. PennStar’s fleet of six helicopters makes around 2,500flights a year, serving a massive chunk of the eastern Pennsylvania/New Jerseyregion.

From the roof it was back down to ground level, where wewere introduced to a state-of-the-art pill picking and dispensing robot. Therobot is gigantic, taking up the majority of a large room. Paul Miranda, RPh, MBA,associate director of Pharmacy, toldHUPdate earlier this year that the robot can handle more than 5,000 lineitems and process 53,280 doses per hour.

IMG_8880Later in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit thehospital chapel. Though the chapel doesn’t cater to any one religionspecifically, but it does offer the one thing that can occasionally seem almostimpossible to find in a busy hospital setting: peace and tranquility. Thebustling world outside fades away in this space; it becomes easy to forgetthere are physicians, patients, staff and visitors walking the hall onlyfifteen feet away.

The chapel trip was a prelude to my visit with the hospitalchaplains, a soft-spoken group on call within the hospital 24/7. Together theywork to bring peace of mind to patients from all walks of life, helping othersthrough the emotional highs and lows inherent to any given day in a hospitalsetting.

IMG_8924As night fell, our final visit of the day was with a braintumor support group. Patients, survivors, family and friends convened in aquiet room to discuss their experiences. Each extremely personal accountoffered a new perspective on illness and what it can mean not only to thepatient but also to his or her family and friends. For some, the battle hadalready been long and arduous. For others, it was only just beginning. Thoughthe circumstances that brought them together were unfortunate and sometimestragic, the group’s embrace of this shared experience enabled them to provide acomfort that may have been hard to find elsewhere.

It was a powerful and sobering way to finish what had beenan extraordinarily busy day.

There are more than 20,000 employees with Penn Medicine. Forany Day in the Life project to fully encompass their efforts, each of thoseemployees would have to tell their story. I feel privileged to have had abackstage pass to just a handful of them.

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