Linda Woodard is best known as the friendly face who helps patients find their way around the N.C. Cancer Hospital, UNC Lineberger’s clinical home — but many may not know what an incredible history she has at Carolina.
Linda Woodard has a long history at Carolina. The Wayne County native went to college at UNC-Chapel Hill and majored in medical technology before starting her career in what became the department of hospital labs in 1970. She spent the next 34 years working at UNC, and now volunteers at the N.C. Cancer Hospital as a patient registration navigator.
What does your volunteer work as a patient registration navigator entail?
“Our official duty is to be present in the registration area and help patients find their way around to their various appointments. The work always seems to vary, and it’s a job that I don’t think can really be summed up in a job description. On any given morning, I get here around 8:30 or 9:00 and stay until about 1:00 in the afternoon, and most weeks during that time period registration will have seen 250-300 patients. We try to watch out for new patients who may not be familiar with the hospital and any familiar faces who may be having a hard time. Sometimes we may push people in wheelchairs or walk with them to where they need to go. We have patients who not only have appointments in the N.C. Cancer Hospital but across UNC Medical Center, and since I worked here for so long and watched all of these facilities be built, I know my way around pretty well. Of course, I can’t stay with any one patient indefinitely, but you learn to balance what’s needed.”
What inspired you to volunteer after you retired?
“Volunteering is a way of life and something my parents instilled in me from a young age. I worked for 10 years in a free clinic in Durham before I retired. When I worked at UNC, my family would often connect me with people from home who were being treated in Chapel Hill. I would go visit with them, and almost always, they were so happy to see someone from home. By the time I retired, I told my boss that the most important work I had done here was not in my job description, it was not something I was paid for – it was on my own time visiting with patients.
On the day the N.C. Cancer Hospital opened, they’d set up clotheslines where you could take a Carolina blue ribbon and write the name of somebody you loved who fought cancer or was lost to cancer. I looked and I said, ‘I’ll use up most of the ribbons.’ I wrote three to four names per ribbon, and when I got to ten ribbons I just had to stop. While those losses were all over a long period of time, that was a lot of family members and friends. One of the things that keeps me doing this, is that every patient I help here represents somebody I loved and lost.”
What motivates you to keep coming back every week to volunteer?
“There’s been so many but every single time I’m here, when I leave and stop to think there’s at least one patient that I realize is the reason that I was here that day. Sometimes the patients thank you and say, ‘I would’ve never made it to my appointment without you.’ It’s how I know that I belong here.”
What would you say to someone interested in volunteering their time at the N.C. Cancer Hospital?
“It’s the most rewarding, emotionally and mentally satisfying way to spend your time. It can also be emotionally draining, but you will always leave here feeling like you’ve helped at least one person. Sometimes you’ll help 50 to 75 people in a four-hour shift, and there’s not a lot of other places where you can say that.”