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For anybody who has volunteered in an emergency department...

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by MUN2005, Dec 25, 2001.

  1. MUN2005

    MUN2005 Miner? 7+ Year Member

    Aug 19, 2001
    I've recently started volunteering in the local ED. People talk about how interesting it is, which I do agree with, but the docs and staff are always so busy that I don't really get a chance to interact with anybody or learn anything first hand from any staff. Now I am just a volunteer, I know you don't just walk in and start doing airways and physicals but I do want to get to talk to and know people and get involved somehow to see what working as a physician there may actually be like. Any suggestions? Thanks alot.
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  3. none

    none 1K Member 10+ Year Member

    Jul 27, 2001
    Go to a VA Hospital! Others have WAY too much liability to let you do anything. I worked in a VA ER and was pumping stomachs, taking EKGs, watching over psych patients, giving vision tests, and doing a bunch of other stuff! Further, there's near no trauma usually, so nurses generally have the time and inclination to explain what they're doing to you. The best case scenario, of course, is to go to a VA on a medical school campus. It was spectacular.
  4. Sarena

    Sarena Member 7+ Year Member

    Jun 19, 2001
    You didn't mention how long you have been volunteering in the ER. Allow yourself time to build a relationship with the staff. I'm sure they will be more willing to share their experiences with you after getting to know you. I'm a registered nurse and can speak from some experience. I'm sure they get their share of people volunteering just so they can add an EC to their application or who want to see if they really want to be a doctor by spending a few hours volunteering.

    My advice is to get involved with the patients. Talk with them, interact with them, assist them. After all, that is what medicine is really about. If you like the patient interaction, deciding what type of doctor you want to become will be the easy part and that can wait until you are in med school and are doing your clinical rotations.

    Good luck in your quest.
  5. megkudos

    megkudos Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    Dec 18, 2001
    New Jersey
    I found it very hard for this same resoan when I volunteered in the ER. It was worse even because I was only allowed at the triage front desk. The only way to do anything is to take the initiative to talk to the patients. I would especially like playing with any little kids that were around. Pretty much people (and doctors) aren't gonna come to you so you have to make the first step! Good luck....
  6. flynnt

    flynnt Member 10+ Year Member

    Sep 24, 2001
    I am currently a senior in high school and have volunteered at in a local ED for about 18 months. I actually find myself interacting with nurses more that doctors, because most of the stuff i do is nursing type stuff (EKGs, chest compressions, bagging patients, restraining patients, transporting them). As the nurses get to know you and see you are responsible, they will ask you to do more and more.
    For the most part, the docs are busy, and barely can remember the techs, let alone the volunteers. However, some are very into teaching and will treat you as though you are a med student. (BTW, i work in an inner city, level I trauma center in philadelphia, 55K visits per year)
  7. shorrin

    shorrin the ninth doctor 7+ Year Member

    Dec 21, 2001
    the tardis
    I have to echo flynnt's sentiments. I work 2.5 hours/week in a level 1 trauma, inner city, pediatric e.d. The nurses can be your best friends and if you tell them the reason why you are there (eg. you want to see what it's like to be a doc) then some will even make a big effort to show you things and let you help. The first step though is definately getting their trust as it is their ass on the line if you screw up. Some are definately more happy to have to help than others that resent you being there. It took me several weeks of simple duties till I got to do/see some interesting stuff. Keep at it, you'll learn a lot! :)
  8. serpiente

    serpiente Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    Jun 28, 2001
    I agree with the others--you CAN see interesting stuff and get good clinical exposure from ED volunteering. However you have to go after it. Docs will rarely approach you and offer to show you something interesting (only happened twice to me in 2 yrs of volunteering.) Nurses and techs are your best asset. Get to know them, when you're not busy ask them if you can watch what thy're doing-- eventually you'll be given more responsibility. Also I used to walk around and talk to patients during down time. Talking with patients gives you valuable info on their perspective and many of them can really teach you something about why they're there. If you're really looking for more hands on stuff though, I would try volunteering in a free clinic or VA hospital as None posted. Although an extra pair of hands is often needed in an ER for simple tasks (lifting patients, feeding patients, holding an area to be stitched), you really can't do too much in the way of medical care.
  9. md2be06

    md2be06 Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    Jul 15, 2001
    I honestly feel as though volunteering isn't the best way for someone to get a feel for what it's like to be a physician. If you want an accurate picture, shadow a physician! I've done both volunteering and shadowing, and the things I've seen while shadowing blew away anything I got to do as a volunteer. When I shadowed a cardiologist, I actually got to scrub into many procedures and watch angiograms/cardiac caths, angioplasties, stent placements, etc up close. Stuff I'd probably never get to do as a volunteer due to liability issues. Plus, this gave me a much more realistic view of what the typical day of a specialist is like. Shadow a physician, you won't regret it!
  10. UCLA2000

    UCLA2000 7+ Year Member

    Dec 19, 2001
    the hospital
    You guys need to be pro-active. Walk up to a doc, and basically ask him if you can shadow him. Nothing ventured...nothing gained...the worst he can do is say no, which isn't so bad considering you're not doing anything as it is now!

    Once you find a doc that lets you shadow him, stick to him like glue. EVERY time you go into volunteer, find the doc and follow him. After a few weeks he'll trust you a little more, and maybe let you do some stuff.
  11. warpath

    warpath Officer Cadet 7+ Year Member

    Dec 2, 2001
    When I started volunteering, I started in the ER. They didn't let me do anything except cleaning up beds and stuff, stocking up supplies at nursing stations, and running errands. The Nurses weren't my best friends (some didn't even acknowledge my presence), the Environmental Aides were.
    After I broke my arm and had to see the orthopedist, I asked to volunteer there. Lo and behold a position was created for me there. :D
    I transferred from the ER to the fracture clinic and get to shadow the doctor while doing other stuff that volunteers normally do.
    The ER may not necessarily be the best place to get some hands on experience and interact with staff and patients. A smaller setting may be better. But you still have to step forward and ask.
  12. rupsport

    rupsport New Member

    Jul 12, 2001
    Grand Blanc, MI
    I absolutely agree with most sentiments listed here. I do think that most volunteers will be able to make good use of their time if they just ask a physician if they would like to shadow them. That worked for me, but, every hospital is different about their criteria. For me, I was unable to do anything but watch, which was fine for me. For those of you who want more, that is tough to find unless you have some skills or training. It just depends on the emergency department. My advice: if you want to shadow, go to the top and ask the chief. He or she will be the most influential and can help direct you to other things if he or she can't satisfy what you want to do.
  13. UCMonkey

    UCMonkey Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    Aug 26, 2001
    Cincinnati, OH
    Here's another idea (what I did). If you want to get some hands-on contact, stay AWAY from the big level-1, teaching EDs. Try a small community hospital if there's one around. I volunteered in one for 3 years, and many times the only staff there was me, 2 nurses, a tech and a doc for 10 beds. The nurses were always glad to have an extra set of hands around and I got to do a lot. Because the place was so small, they also had plenty of time to talk about what was going on. Remember - the bulk of ER medicine is NOT big bloody trauma, its other stuff like MI's, CVA's, exacerbation of COPD, etc.

    Also, EM is only one of the many specialties out there. What working in an ED will show you is what it is like to be an EM doc.

    Finally, if you're really set on working in the ED for an extended period, it may be helpful to get an EMT cert if you can. That way you can tell people that you have some formal training and they may let you do more.
  14. Nova

    Nova Member 7+ Year Member

    Jun 21, 2001
    Volunteers at the ER where I volunteer aren't allowed to do anything that involves touching a patient. You can't even help move them from bed to wheelchair or vice versa. You simply do not touch them.

    I clock 'em in, make sure the triage nurse is aware of any critical emergencies that walk in, see them to their rooms, and write 'em on the board. Maybe I can get them a blanket but I can't even give them a pillow without a nurse's o.k.

    I'd go to a different hospital, but just about everything medical in the area is covered by the same corporation, which means the same rules apply for the volunteers. Since I'm also interested in family practice, I'll probably shadow one of the local small docs instead of going back to the hospital this year.
  15. KDocGirl

    KDocGirl Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    Sep 24, 2001
    I definitely agree with the previous posts. Shadowing a physician is the best exposure. However, I had an interesting experience volunteering in the OR too. I started out assigned to the front desk of the OR, but quickly made friends with the secretary, who knew all the doctors. She and another sec were really cool about findings ways to visit the rooms during operations, so I got to see liver transplants, operations on brain and heart. Plus, they introduced me to all the surgeons, who talked with me about their viewpoints on surgery and med school. It was great to interact with so many different physicians at one place. So, if you would like to stay in the ER, try to look for the person who knows everyone, introduce yourself or get to know that person and let him/her know your future plans and what you'd like to do in the ER. Don't press on that person though. Remember that your position as a volunteer is to help the staff, not vice versa. If it doesn't work out for you, you can find so many other experiences to gain physician or patient contact.
  16. Ohiobuddhist

    Ohiobuddhist Member 7+ Year Member

    Oct 17, 2001
    Athens, Ohio
    As many have already posted, ER volunteering can be very rewarding - depending on the environment. But, I did it for over 3 years - something like 1200 hours - and I can assure you that while it is a good introduction to a medical career (especially EM), it is not enough. After my first year of college, I got a job as an orderly/ER tech at the same hospital (small, rural), and it has provided me many more quality experiences. I think that, if possible, this should really be the next step after volunteering. You get MUCH closer to patients (i.e. collecting stool specimens) and you definitely get greater insight into the science and business of medicine. Good luck to all those still in their volunteer stage, and remember it takes time to make the staff comfortable enough with you to let you help run a code!

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