Shirley Graner led some of UCLA’s most prominent doctors on their first tours of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center when they were students in high school.
Graner is a volunteer tour leader at the medical center, where she guides visiting students, families and physicians through the hospital, explaining the variety of roles different employees play. She began volunteering in 1975 after her youngest child graduated from high school.
“I knew I wanted to do something different and interesting,” Graner said. “I saw a paragraph in the Los Angeles Times saying the medical school was looking for volunteers, so I came to a meeting and I’ve been here ever since.”
The medical center’s volunteer services department recently recognized Graner for 40 years of service with UCLA Health.
Graner said she loves to lead thousands of people from many different countries in tours because she learns from the diverse groups of people she meets.
“I’ve (led) doctors from Russia, and nurses from Denmark,” Graner said. “I took five of China’s administrators (on tours) as they were starting the first (national) health insurance (plan) in China.”
Graner said she underwent an extensive four-month training process prior to becoming a tour leader, which required her to write an essay about prominent UCLA buildings, among other tasks, to prove she had a deep understanding of the medical center’s underpinnings.
Graner’s friend, Shirlee Sevin, who has been volunteering at the medical center for about 25 years, has completed many tours with Graner.
“We formed a fast, very close friendship through working together,” Sevin said. “When (Graner) makes a commitment, it’s engraved in stone.”
Sevin said the tour leaders have become a close-knit group because of their collective dedication to the program. She added she thinks Graner’s passion stems from her belief in the tour’s potential to inspire the youth by exposing them to new careers.
“That tour program is her life, and she feels it gives a tremendous amount to the young people who come,” Sevin said. “They are introduced to opportunities in the medical field, other than being doctors or nurses, and they would never (otherwise) know these other avenues are available.”
Graner said young students who tour the medical center learn that jobs in the medical field are attainable if they continue their educations.
“When I first started, a lot of kids didn’t even know UCLA existed,” Graner said. “(During the tour), they saw people like themselves (at the medical center) working – it was just wonderful.”
Maxine Marger, a recently retired volunteer, said she worked with Graner for 15 years. She said she was heartbroken when she had to stop leading tours due to health issues, but recalled the frequent lunches they shared after finishing with their respective groups.
“She is totally devoted to the hospital and the medical center,” Marger said. “I loved … planning the tours and participating with the teachers and students, I loved (connecting) with the other tour leaders, I loved UCLA and I know Shirley feels the same way.”
Graner said the best part of her job is knowing there is a possibility she has started someone off in a career they had no knowledge of before touring the medical facilities at UCLA.
“I feel I’ve made a difference and showed them an opportunity, maybe a career choice,” Graner said. “I get more out of it than I give.”