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December 07, 2012 // By Robert Press // Comments

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

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IMG_8896As a Digital Communications Editor, much — if not all — of my typical day is spent behind a keyboard in a regular office separate from our clinical facilities. For someone who is relatively new to Penn Medicine, this can create issues of scale. You’re told from the very beginning that the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) is huge, but with no real reference 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 with enthusiasm. Along with Kim Menard — who handled the mammoth tasks of scheduling and ensuring I didn’t get lost — I spent Nov. 14 taking hundreds of pictures around the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Truly, there is no better crash course in learning the scale of just one part of UPHS than wandering the entirety of HUP and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine over the span of a day. It is, simply put, a self-contained world. Hundreds of patients, thousands of employees, a helipad, a room-dominating pill-picker robot, a fascinatingly massive proton therapy machine that looks straight out of science fiction, a chapel, a cafeteria, a relaxation 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 very first baby born at HUP on Nov. 14. He was only about two hours old, so our visit with him was brief. He’s one of approximately 4,400 babies that will be born at HUP this year.

Not too long after that, we got to tag along with HUP’s Pups, a volunteer group of therapy dogs that come to the hospital and visit patients. 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 before you understand their worth in the recovery process.

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

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

IMG_8880Later in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit the hospital chapel. Though the chapel doesn’t cater to any one religion specifically, but it does offer the one thing that can occasionally seem almost impossible to find in a busy hospital setting: peace and tranquility. The bustling world outside fades away in this space; it becomes easy to forget there are physicians, patients, staff and visitors walking the hall only fifteen feet away.

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

IMG_8924As night fell, our final visit of the day was with a brain tumor support group. Patients, survivors, family and friends convened in a quiet room to discuss their experiences. Each extremely personal account offered a new perspective on illness and what it can mean not only to the patient but also to his or her family and friends. For some, the battle had already been long and arduous. For others, it was only just beginning. Though the circumstances that brought them together were unfortunate and sometimes tragic, the group’s embrace of this shared experience enabled them to provide a comfort that may have been hard to find elsewhere.

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

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

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