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An Open Letter to Pre-Med ER Volunteers (from a Non-Trad Pre-Med ER Tech)

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical Allopathic [ MD ]' started by music2doc, 02.04.12.

  1. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    Since the sarcastic tone was previously missed, let me put the OP more simply:

    Based on the observations of myself and some of my colleagues, if you volunteer in the ED and would like to have the best possible experience, I would suggest that you:

    1) Be proactive in seeking out ways you can help
    2) Let us know you are there, what your name is, what you're interested in doing, etc.
    3) When asked to do something, do your best to do it, even if it seems boring -- we'll appreciate that and may be able to return the favor later
    4) Keep in mind the (other) golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules. For better or for worse, the perception the staff holds of you is likely to influence what you are offered. Things like reliability, work ethic, etc. influence their perception of you. This is not something any one person has control over, but I have seen it work for and against some of our volunteers. I don't mean to discourage, but be aware of that.


    This thread was not meant to be a war of positions and I'm sorry it devolved into that. It was meant as a simple word of warning to other pre-meds.
    Last edited: 02.04.12
  2. AllDaWEI

    AllDaWEI 百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵 ,善之善者也

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    The "volunteer" attitude you mention above clearly shows how much they want to be there and how altruistic they are. It's frustrating that this is the norm and then they write on PS and talk about at interview how meaningful the experience was.
  3. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    Nothing wrong with those things. I think you missed the point -- you need to be willing to do whatever is asked of you if you want to be involved. The issue I've seen with many of our volunteers is that they do not want to do the more menial tasks and that will get them nowhere. If a tech thinks you're "avoiding her" because you refused to do something when she asked and now are keeping totally to yourself off in some corner staring at people, she is unlikely to come find you when something cool happens. The techs are your friends. While busy, they are often the ones more likely than the nurse to invite you to come see something interesting.

    As for "expecting poor performance" from our volunteers, that is something I definitely do not expect. I expect our volunteers to engage the staff as best they can. I expect you to do what you can to be helpful and to be generally engaged. These volunteers I am referring to have been very disengaged. When I then see people on SDN complaining about how "boring" their ER volunteering experience was, it comes as no surprise. I suspect the two guys I had just last night will likely read this and, perhaps, they will identify themselves (or perhaps not). I do know they were premeds hoping to get some volunteer experience in our ED for their med school apps....
  4. IlDestriero

    IlDestriero Ether Man

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    This is why it's stupid to volunteer in most big hospital emergency rooms. There's very limited opportunity for meaningful patient contact, or anything else, and at best you're tolerated vs appreciated. The tone is clear above, and he's just a tech.:rolleyes:
    Shadow some physicians, and volunteer at a small clinic, some free care joint, etc. You'll actually be needed, and appreciated. And you just might make a difference.
    If you really want to volunteer some time, get involved, and make a difference, do some research and go somewhere that you might actually be able to help.
    One of my navy nurse pals started volunteering at a city food bank. She didn't know diddly about food banks, but wanted to help. 12 months later she's a senior supervisor. How? She had real leadership skills and organization ability. The people that were there meant well, and had experience, but they didn't have the right skills to manage things well. She went from stocking shelves to planning fundraisers, etc.
    You're not learning anything stocking shelves and peeking into the trauma bay at Da' U's Emergency Room.
    Last edited: 02.04.12
  5. wlee43

    wlee43

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    too long to read
  6. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    Absolutely agreed. This is why I suggest free clinics for volunteer sites. It's unfortunate, but you're not really needed in the ED and we frequently can't do anything to help involve you more. In the EDs I've worked, we have sincerely tried but I've worked in several EDs and none will allow us to do so much as let you take someone's vitals using a machine (i.e., requiring zero skill beyond pressing a button and writing down the response). I don't volunteer at the hospital myself. I just thought I'd share "the other side" with all of you. It's reality. Get out of the hospital (or at least the ED) if you want a decent volunteering experience.
  7. AllDaWEI

    AllDaWEI 百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵 ,善之善者也

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    I see that pre-meds always get the flak here. I see that you and the staff get frustrated with the attitude you witness. What if you tell them that if they do not want to do it, then they shouldn't. Well with volunteering as "requirement," it's not exactly possible (assuming they did not want to volunteer in the first place, they likely would not look for other opportunities). How many college age volunteers there are not pre-med? Last time I checked, non-pre-meds were not lining up in throngs to volunteer at hospitals to do free labor.

    As long as it is a requirement and pre-meds keep upping hours bar, you will have pre-meds come in with piss poor attitudes. I once talked to a resident and told me that they do not let pre-med volunteers do any tasks that require training, because they are so unreliable. Being forced to do something sucks, and that's what medical schools do. Sure doing service is good, but doing free labor will not instantly show you are altruistic.

    Are ADCOMs just naive, or do they honestly believe these hospital volunteers are altruistic and actually want to be there? The last time I volunteered at something completely unrelayed to medical school I was having fun. I was NOT watching the clock and thinking about how much it sucks.

    So before pre-meds get all the blame, consider that the "volunteer requirement" has played a part in this too.
  8. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    Sure, I get where you're coming from and I agree. As for suggesting they "not do it," that's not really my place. IMO, that's the volunteer coordinator's job and I'd be overstepping my bounds to make that suggestion. I wrote that little anonymous letter to communicate to premeds what they may (or may not) have suspected but never been told by the staff they volunteer with. The volunteer coordinator really only gets involved if we have enough of a problem going on that we have to contact her. I'd much rather something like this be fixed long before I (or more likely my Charge RN) am (is) calling the volunteer coordinator because by that time, it's generally to have you transferred elsewhere (or removed from the program).
  9. grindtime1

    grindtime1

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    Yeah, not really. A clinical experience is one in which you are exposed to patients and get to directly observe interaction between physicians/patients. The menial scut work you call out pre-meds for not wanting to do achieves none of that. There's also no guarantee that you get to "work your way up" after doing enough paperwork/filing/stocking etc. Many might see you as so reliable that they'll depend on you doing their paperwork every week.

    Me? I personally skipped all the stocking/bed making/towel folding/stapling junk and went straight to the attending ER doc each week and politely asked if I may observe their procedures as I was a pre-medical student with ambitions of one day becoming a doctor and wanted to know what the field was like. Make use of your time and learn something relevant to your future.
  10. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    I agree that that is why you're there, but in most EDs, you're not going to get to that point so easily. What I am saying is accept what you are asked to do and work your way in. If you turn down the scut when you are asked to do it, we're less likely to ask you to help in other ways later. It's a balance. Don't let us walk on you (be assertive) but don't refuse less enjoyable activities because you'll likely alienate us and that will hurt you. On your first shift, you have no reputation to stand on so you cannot expect us to help you out without you doing something in return.

    At least where I work, you would have gotten shut down and out-competed pretty fast if you'd tried to step in like that and shadow as a new volunteer. You're basically competing with residents/interns (usually relatively few of these), med students, PA students, techs, scribes, nursing students, EMT students, and more senior volunteers so it's unlikely you would have so easily gotten the "okay".
    Last edited: 02.05.12
  11. AllDaWEI

    AllDaWEI 百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵 ,善之善者也

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    It sounds like you guys have a pretty large supply of pre-meds to choose from, so maybe threatening the ones now may work. At big hospital near university, I am sure many eager pre-meds are on a waitlist ready to do the requirement. I would probably forward this to the volunteer coordinator. I feel bad for small hospitals that actually need volunteers, and the pre-meds either half-ass or completely blow off the experience. This can HURT the hospital, not help it.

    The best way to solve the issues you mentioned is to get AMCAS involved. They should use a similar structure as high schools with mandatory community service requirement to graduate. Volunteer coordinators should send an official document showing the exact number of hours served and checking a box showing the applicant did a satisfactory job. Doesn't sound too hard, does it? This should improve the quality of work done by pre-meds, and for pre-meds who do NOT want to volunteer, the hours will drop to Earthly levels since embellishing will come to an end. Problem solved.
  12. dbeast

    dbeast Neurorectal surgeon

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    You should always *look* busy, regardless of whether you are or not. Here were my two go to moves:

    1. Grab the nearest other volunteer, point towards something, both of you nod in agreement, and then walk in that direction.

    2. Take random supplies and put them throughout the ED on your first lap, then pick them up and put them back on your second lap. Repeat.
  13. DrBowtie

    DrBowtie Responsible?!?! PGY3 Moderator Emeritus

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    Cliff Notes of the OP: ER Tech bossing around the only person lower than them on the hierarchy, the ED volunteer.
  14. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    No, that would likely be scribes, EMT students and RN students. :rolleyes: <--Note the sarcasm, people. No one takes crap from anyone else.... Get over your "hierarchy" mentality....


    I just thought I'd offer some suggestions since I see these issues recurring over and over in our ED.
    Some volunteers seem to get it, but many don't. However, when I advise students, I encourage them to go volunteer at a free clinic.
    Last edited: 02.05.12
  15. mauberley

    mauberley radiating prestige

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    I don't think they are. As I've said in other threads you've commented in, this perception of volunteering being strictly a numbers game seems entirely created on the pre-meds' side. Schools merely state that "altruism" is a characteristic sought after in applicants. This gets translated by pre-meds as "work eleventy billion hours," with little in the way of actual confirmation from schools that this is the only metric by which applicants' altruism is inferred.
  16. kristinairene

    kristinairene EMT-B

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    haha hilarious! I always keep myself busy whether I'm working or volunteering, the reason behind is because keeping yourself busy will make time faster.
  17. macar91

    macar91

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    On especially slow days, I would walk around to all of the empty patient rooms and re-stock gloves, wipes, etc. one item at a time. Once you've re-stocked all of the gloves, go around to each of the rooms again and re-stock the wipes. Rinse and repeat as many times as necessary.
  18. AllDaWEI

    AllDaWEI 百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵 ,善之善者也

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    It was even better when techs bossed you around while they stood around talking or went on Facebook. I felt very charitable giving them this time to mess around. Helping my community!!! :rolleyes:
  19. xBODOMx

    xBODOMx

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    -
    Last edited: 02.19.12
  20. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    Wow... Really? I'm sorry that offended you. It sounds like you're a bit sensitive about this. Have you had some bad experiences as a scribe in your interactions with clinical staff? If so, I am truly sorry that happened, but please don't take that out on me (or others).

    I put non-trad b/c I am one and I've worked in more professional roles in the hospital before moving to the ED (i.e., that is part of my non-trad experience). I put MS-0 when I was first accepted because I am accepted at a few schools and therefore am an "MS-0". You'll see that around here a fair amount. It had nothing to do with this. Sorry if that offended you.

    I've worked as a scribe as well. I enjoyed it. Honestly, though, the tech responsibilities greatly surpass those of a scribe. For instance, scribes can no longer enter orders (federal law). ED Techs still enter orders and they do so based on their own assessment. I could go into the many facets of our job but suffice it to say there is a significant gap. I am sorry that I apparently touched on a sore spot for you. (Note: this may not be true at every hospital but here, scribes are very limited in what they can do. I would not expect a scribe to "take crap" from a tech, but if push came to shove, the tech would likely win the argument. I've seen it happen on a rare occasion and it's the scribe that typically gets "the talk".)
    Last edited: 02.05.12
  21. tantacles

    tantacles Moderator Lifetime Donor

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    Having been a volunteer who disappeared into the ether for no other reason than leaving the area, I think you're right to be a little peeved with ED volunteers who expect to meet doctors to shadow while volunteering in the ED.

    The tasks in the ED are boring, I admit it. But they're necessary, and if I don't do them, someone else has to. Nurses, techs and scribes take enough ****. They don't need any from me.

    One piece of advice I would offer is to have a short chat with the managing nurse in each department of the ED (usually, the one sitting at a desk and not seeing quite as many patients as the others). If you let the nurse know your name and that you're available if they need anything and then you actually follow through, you'll find them to be incredibly kind and grateful people regardless of how easy the job you're doing is.

    You're there to volunteer, not to shadow, so the expectation that someone will allow you to shadow, even if you ask really nicely, is kind of presumptuous. But if you swallow your pride and so the work, a nurse might ask you to do something a little more meaningful, like keeping a cocaine addict company or feeding a patient who suffered a stroke. Just make yourself as available as possible.
  22. SeminoleVesicle

    SeminoleVesicle MS2

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    Big dog, you got to get off your high horse. I think medical school is gonna be humbling for you when you realize that it isn't tailored around your wants and desires. Shameful post dude.
  23. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    Great suggestions! I think these should come naturally to someone engaged and caring about being there. If you talk to the Charge RN or to any of the staff and ask us what you can do, we will gladly try to hook you up with something. Unfortunately, even the things you've suggested would still require trust. Having you in the room with any patient in psych (which is where a stable coke addict would likely be) would require us to be quite comfortable with who you've shown yourself to be. It might also bring up some legal questions (e.g., privacy concerns) due to the area in which you'd be.
  24. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    Do you disagree with the suggestions made or do you simply not like that someone about to enter medicine with you would make them? I've got a few years on you. I'm not some 22-year-old kid making suggestions to a bunch of 18-year-olds. They are simple observations from someone working on staff at a hospital. I am actually quite sympathetic toward the needs of premeds volunteering in our ED. That is why I felt it was a good idea to voice the kind of responses I hear from my colleagues toward some premeds' behavior in the ED.


    BTW, I wrote it with an intentionally over the top sort of tone. It wasn't really meant to be read in the most literal fashion possible. It's a little satyrical in its tone. A little too "high-brow" for what it actually says. Sorry if that wasn't conveyed.
    Last edited: 02.05.12
  25. tantacles

    tantacles Moderator Lifetime Donor

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    These two small favors took a couple of months and a good deal of luck to come by. Fortunately, the coke addict was in denial (she claimed it was the first time, and I believed her, but they didn't, hence my halfhearted assertion that she was a coke addict) and was not in the psych ward (weird circumstances).

    The tasks the charge nurse initially gave me really were things like changing pillowcases and serving lunch, though. They eventually learned my name, and I learned theirs after coming week after week. They remembered me, I think, as the quirky and friendly guy who just wanted to help out, and I think my willingness to do whatever they said, no matter how boring, made them feel comfortable asking me to do whatever I could.

    Notably, I think the nurses still got the ****ty end of the stick, literally. When I fed the patient who suffered from a stroke, they were still the ones handling the bedpan when she had to use the toilet. They made my job easy, and I hope I made theirs easier.
  26. FattySlug

    FattySlug

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    Do you have enough work for the amount of volunteers that you have? It is one thing to get mad on the volunteers who turned down tasks, but it is another thing to bad mouth people who stand around when there is absolutely nothing to do. Would you rather them pretend to be busy than standing around? At least if they are standing around you know they are available.

    You should have a designated area where the volunteers must be present when they have nothing to do so other people can grab them when needed. Make a clear guideline so the volunteers know what tasks to do when they come in and how to behave when there is nothing to do. Accept less volunteers if there are too many of them just standing around.
  27. DentalDawg55

    DentalDawg55

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    I think the bottom line is this - you are a non-traditional who harbors some resentment towards your typical college pre-med who is volunteering in the ED. You believe your intentions and ambitions are more pure than the average college kid. Anyway, I feel sorry for you buddy, because when you are in your clinical years, these same pre-med kids who came through the ED where you work are going to be your residents and even attendings. Better deal with your issues now before you get there
  28. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    We had two on and neither were doing anything. The crux of the issue to me is that when asked to do things, they did not want to do them. As a result, the staff simply did not ask them to do anything. The fact is we usually work without volunteers. If volunteers want to get anything out of their experience, they need to be proactive. The ED is not really the kind of place where you stand around and wait for someone to ask you to do something. My point in posting was to convey that fact. If you are a volunteer in the ED, you probably need to be proactive (or you'll end up standing around the entire time) because we don't really have the time to go and find you every time we need something done.
  29. Nooblet

    Nooblet

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    Last edited: 02.19.12
  30. FattySlug

    FattySlug

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    If you already make it perfectly clear to them that it is ok to approach people and ask for things to do and they still stand around then the shame is on them. There are volunteers who are afraid of interrupting medical personnel at work because they are always busy and it is the ED.

    I understand that they need to be proactive but that fact must be made really clear to them at the orientation since volunteers usually can't really do much and many think that they most likely will just get in the way.
  31. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    As I mentioned earlier, they were asked by the triage tech to put together packets for patients in the waiting room. Not exactly the most interesting job but it's what we had for them at the time. They declined without giving a reason -- more of a "nah" with a shrug and walked away response.
  32. SeminoleVesicle

    SeminoleVesicle MS2

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    I don't disagree, volunteers should be performing every task asked of them. However, I think this is an n=1 experience. I think it's useless to vent on here when you should be motivating your crappy volunteers. I went around for an entire day shredding recycled paper at the hospital I volunteered at with a smile. Most of the kids volunteering there bust ass for the prospect of making it as a physician. To think that a lot us pre-meds stand around awkwardly and are insubordinates is absurd, we are trying our best and paying our dues. Your closing sentence...

    TL;DR: avoid hospital volunteering, especially in the ED

    is downright discouraging. The purpose of this volunteering is decide if medicine is right for us and interact with future colleagues, not to be someone else's slave. As you move throughout your career you will deal with people that are not qualified or half-ass it in effort, and you deal with it and move on.

    However, I will agree with you there are lot of kids just looking to put ER volunteering on their resume and this is a disgusting aspect of medical school admissions. It is obviously the most wildly unstandardized aspect of admissions. You should know what you're potentially getting when a volunteer comes through the door.
  33. sector9

    sector9 Administrator Administrator SDN Senior Moderator

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    What sort of clinical volunteering would you recommend then? Kind of a rhetorical question in the sense that I've already applied but I'm still curious about what you'd say.
  34. BiopsychStudent

    BiopsychStudent

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    Exactly.

    Honestly, I can't imagine any ED volunteers not doing something a nurse or tech asked them to do unless they don't know how to do it. ED volunteering is not exciting, and most volunteers are dying for something to do: laying out new sheets, making sure the kitchen's stocked, filing paperwork, etc. If volunteers are standing around doing nothing it probably means there's nothing for them to do. The only caveat being handling bedpans: as most volunteers aren't going to be wearing scrubs or white coats its kind of unreasonable to ask them to empty bedpans if they're semi-dressed up (which hospitals usually ask for).
  35. chiapet874

    chiapet874

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    And this is why I always recommend volunteering at a health clinic. It's a win-win for everyone.
  36. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    I think I've said it many times on this and other threads -- get into a free clinic where they actually need you. Find a place that is staffed by volunteers and will appreciate you. Free clinics are not nearly as tightly regulated as we are. When I volunteer at the clinics where I am on staff (as a volunteer), I do not have nearly the same kinds of regulations. Sure, I need to practice within my level of training and legal scope of practice, but I can work much more near the edge of my level of training. I do the job of an RN (as an EMT) minus the administration of meds. I write orders (doc signs), I am the first assist on minor surgical procedures, I do teachings on a variety of diseases, etc. Free clinics are ideal for a student if they are setup well and we actually utilize pre-health students as student techs -- they simply require direct supervision throughout their time there.
  37. AllDaWEI

    AllDaWEI 百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵 ,善之善者也

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    I agree with a lot of what you said here, and also agree with the OP's frustrations. Not everyone is nearly as altruistic and has the gunner mentality as some SDN members here. Yes, a good majority of pre-meds are doing this solely because its requirement. If a school wants to find out the intentions, they should look at how many applicants actually did continuous substantial volunteering before ever being pre-med. I don't know how many they will find.

    As for what the OP said, any ED worker should expect to have pre-meds that do not want to be there, and will show it. Its nice when you have the proactive ones, or even those that grin and do what they're told, but you will be dealing with people who plain don't want to be there. In an idealistic world, of course everyone will gladly volunteer because they want to, but this is not the case. This is why I have heard of residents and physicians bad mouthing volunteers and saying how virtually no responsibilities are given to them. I know there are good ones out there, but you hear this time and time again, happening all over. The best thing to do is not rely on anything significant. It kind of sucks if you give them responsibilities, and they instead are slacking off, or sometimes not even showing up because they have something else to do. Just let them stand in the background, and if you have proactive ones, then great. If not, then you have your pre-med volunteers, what more do you honestly expect?

    When I was volunteer, I took one week off because I was sick, and then was hesitant about taking the second week off because I needed to study. A friend said, "What are they going to do? Fire you?" This may just be the mentality. If you are doing free labor and are unwilling, that is deadly combo for the less motivated. In a smaller hospital lacking volunteers, I don't see firings happening. It's better to have even the smallest amount of help, than nothing at all. So get what you can. If not, then you know they are playing the medical admissions game, just like everyone else.
  38. MiracleforMD

    MiracleforMD

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    I'd say scribes and techs are about equal, different but close enough. Literally coughed when I read the notion that a RN student or even a paramedic student would give a FU-CK what a tech said.
  39. sector9

    sector9 Administrator Administrator SDN Senior Moderator

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    SDN Published Author hSDN Alumni SDN 2+ Year Member
    Interesting. I looked into volunteering as free clinics and I was told that I would be put on a volunteer waitlist. When I approached two hospital volunteer coordinators, I was volunteering within a few weeks at both hospitals. I guess it depends on the area you're in.
  40. AllDaWEI

    AllDaWEI 百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵 ,善之善者也

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    People are always mentioning free clinics on here, and honestly, I think they are great. They really offer great opportunities. Here is the problem, first, spaces will probably be limited. How many free clinics can there actually be given in a pre-med saturated area? Secondly, do you think that more typical cookie cutter pre-meds will look outside of standard hospital volunteering? Only the more motivated ones will make it here, and I do not think this represents entire pre-med population. Not even close! Good intentions, but easier said than done.
  41. Floyd G

    Floyd G

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    You sound like the kind of guy who has business cards that say

    Music2doc
    MS0
    ED Tech in a busy regional academic ED/trauma center
  42. tantacles

    tantacles Moderator Lifetime Donor

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    I actually took that in a different way. Namely, that if that was too long for you to pay attention to, you shouldn't bother trying to have a meaningful interaction with patients in the ED because all the staff will probably dislike you.
  43. AllDaWEI

    AllDaWEI 百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵 ,善之善者也

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    I think this sounds a little too harsh. ADCOMs have admitted to people on here that they were rejected due to a lack of volunteer hours, or state that volunteering is a requirement. This puts pre-meds in a tough position. If something is required, you need to do it, or you wont be accepted. Its sadly that simple. :(
  44. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    I thought about pointing that out too ('though not quite so negatively), but then I thought it might come off like a d-bag to say it, lol. Glad you caught the double-meaning there, though.
  45. music2doc

    music2doc Student of Mad Doctoring

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    I think you'd be surprised. At least in our ED, the techs do a lot of the training for the RN/BSN and, to a lesser degree, EMT-P hospital/ER rotations. The reason being that they are in the ED every day and know what to do in the situations we get in the ED. (As a side note, an EMT-P student is generally quite a bit more experienced and knowledgeable than an RN student due to their time as EMT-Bs and Is.) Honestly, even med students come to the techs for assistance somewhat regularly. (It's probably less intimidating to ask a tech how to perform a given suture than it is to ask your supervising attending....)
  46. mipp0

    mipp0

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    :)
    Last edited: 02.04.12
  47. mipp0

    mipp0

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    How is this shameful? Why would ER professionals want to work with volunteers who feel they are above certain tasks?
  48. mipp0

    mipp0

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    :)
    Last edited: 02.04.12
  49. CodeBlu

    CodeBlu Van Wilder Lifetime Donor

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    So many CodeBlu's.....
  50. mipp0

    mipp0

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    :)
    Last edited: 02.04.12

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