Docent Uses Humor, Personal Experiences in Volunteer Work

By: Shannon Sarino, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Carolyn Whittenburg approaches her volunteer duties with a healthy dose of humor.

"I had just retired from the Department of Health, and the museum was in the retiree newsletter I was reading," she said. "I thought since it's a medical museum, I would be able to pronounce some of the words."

Whittenburg has served as a volunteer docent at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM). She enjoys both working on individual projects and giving tours to school groups.

"I'm glad to be able to help collections and the museum," she said. "The tours are also a lot of fun. I like it when everyone is involved and asking questions."

Volunteer docents provide education and interpretive support for NMHM's programming. Docents support tours, outreach and family programs. Through NMHM's educational programs, the museum inspires and promotes interest in the understanding of medicine—past, present and future—with a special emphasis on American military medicine. With a vast collection of more than 25 million objects and a diversity of visitors, volunteers at NMHM are provided with a unique and rewarding experience.

"Carolyn is such an instrumental part of the volunteer program. She doesn't stop at volunteering in public programs department," said Gwen Nelmes, NMHM tour program coordinator. "She has supported collection management projects for several years in both the Anatomical and Archives divisions, providing the museum with more than 100 volunteer hours annually."

Whittenburg, who originally came to the area through her work as a nurse with the Center on Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, said her favorite NMHM artifact is one with which she has a personal connection.

"The artificial [Kolff] kidney on exhibit is my favorite," she said. "Before I came here, I worked at the Cleveland Clinic, where Dr. Kolff was one of the doctors. I had lunch and worked with him several times."

If you are interested in military medicine, history, medical science and have a general love of museums, join NMHM as a volunteer docent! Candidates must be at least 21 years of age and have a flexible schedule.


Caption: From left to right: BG (P) (Dr.) Joseph Caravalho Jr., CSM Kevin B. Stuart, National Museum of Health and Medicine volunteer docent Carolyn Whitten burg, Colonel Allan J. "AJ" Darden Sr., and CSM Cassandra D. Redd pose during the Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony at Fort Detrick, Maryland, on April 18, 2013.
(Disclosure: This image has been cropped to emphasize the subject.) (National Museum of Health and Medicine photo by Matthew Breitbart / Released)