Health and Medicine People and Community

Volunteer’s care for veterans is off the charts

Hannah Bethel, recognized as the Butler Center’s top volunteer in November, combines her academic studies and research with a passion for serving veterans at a local hospital and students with disabilities on campus.
Hannah Bethel
Sophomore Hannah Bethel was named outstanding volunteer for November at the Butler Center for Service and Leadership. 

Hannah Bethel was just shy of her 13th birthday when she visited the Bruce W. Carter Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center with her mother seeking to volunteer. Bethel was excited that the volunteer coordinator agreed to grant an exception because of her young age, yet worried that she’d just be given busy work to do. 

It didn’t take long for her to realize that she could—and was—truly making an impact. 

That impact and Bethel’s zeal for helping attend to the medical needs of veterans at the center has increased exponentially since she first began volunteering at the hospital nearly six years ago. 

In November, the University of Miami Butler Center for Service and Leadership recognized Bethel as its outstanding volunteer for the month, having logged more than 1,000 hours volunteering with organizations such as the veterans medical center. 

“I just love being there. It’s a tight-knit community—many of the doctors and nurses are veterans themselves—and there are so many people with experience in different areas and so many stories to share,” said Bethel, a sophomore in her third semester majoring in neuroscience and medical anthropology. “Veterans come there even if not scheduled for checkups; they just like to sit outside and speak with their friends at the hospital. I find that so interesting.”

As a volunteer, Bethel performs essential, life-altering services. She guides veterans through the process of filing claims for service-connected disabilities, curates a database of OB-GYN physicians, and organizes information about services for female veterans, among many other tasks. She also is a lab assistant, organizing data and conducting health monitoring. 

Bethel leads two research projects, one focusing on the biochemistry of metastasis in cancer and the other on cancer-related fatigue. 

“Ever since I was young, I’ve loved to do research. And since I’d been volunteering so long, they said they found some potential in me and created a job for me as a research assistant at one of their labs,” she explained. “The moment I turned 18, which was the requirement, I joined the lab.”

Born and raised in North Miami, Bethel moved to Homestead to attend high school at the Center for International Education, a Cambridge Associate school with a challenging curriculum. 

When it came time for college, the University seemed the ideal fit—she could continue volunteering at the center and pursue her studies in the field of medicine. After graduation, she’s already looking ahead to pursuing a M.D. and a Ph.D. related to cancer research and health disparities. 

Her passion and ambition for the medical field is off the charts. Although her mother and one cousin work as nurses, no one else in the family has any experience as a doctor or scientist.

“My interest in medicine is very original. There’s no one in my family that’s done hard sciences or anything related, and no one has gone to college except my mother. My grandparents emigrated from Haiti,” she noted. 

Bethel connected with the Butler Center soon after starting at the University and signed on as a volunteer disability ambassador on campus. 

“Helping students on campus goes hand in hand with the care that I provide for the veterans [at the medical center] because a lot of them have disabilities, and they struggle to get accommodations for whatever services they need. So, whatever I’ve learned at the VA, I bring it to UM as well,” she said. “I’m just so glad that things have worked out where I can be a student at a good university and be able to help people.” 

One of her most satisfying volunteer experiences occurred when a veteran approached her worried that the VA did not have a unit that offered the OB-GYN care she felt she needed. The woman’s clinic coordinator assigned Bethel the task of creating a database of providers. 

“We came up with the idea to create a database of doctors nearby who treat those issues. I went through every website in the South Florida area to find each and every doctor who met certain criteria,” she said. “And it couldn’t be just any doctor, they had to provide the best care possible or at least match what the VA had.” 

For her service at the medical center, Bethel has received the Paralyzed Veterans of America Voluntary Service Recognition, a national-level award, and the Miami VA Healthcare System Certificate of Appreciation. 

Bethel said that she appreciates that the VA serves a large Haitian population as part of its clientele, and she’s a big fan of the Miami VA hospital. 

“They really get a high ranking in terms of their care. There’s so much support and resources for the veterans,” she said. “I’m not saying that I want to run a hospital one day, but if I ever wanted to, I’d make it pretty much like this. The people who work there like their job, and they have the resources for them to do their work.”