ER Nurses- How do you feel about ED volunteers?

  1. 1
    I'm a CNA (non-working) and soon to be nursing student and I just started volunteering in my local hospital's ED. I've shadowed a retired nurse volunteer twice and will be starting my 4 hour shifts next week by myself.

    I feel very uncertain about whether I am a hindrance or a help to the nurses and techs. My duties include stocking rooms, cleaning rooms and making beds, collecting pharmacy items and labs from the pneumatic tubes and giving them to the patient's nurse, and of course, catering to the patients and families.

    I have to be "on" during these shifts because I am essentially having a first impression on what I hope is a future employer and co-workers, but I just feel plain awkward at times. I've also had some interesting looks from some of the nurses which I can't decipher but they are not exactly welcoming looks.

    My question is, what are your impressions of volunteers in the ED? What are your expectations of volunteers? What do volunteers do that tick you off or what do they do that you really appreciate?

    Thanks so much!
    Dixielee likes this.
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  3. 24 Comments so far...

  4. 7
    We have some volunteers who absolutely get in the way, and some that I am so glad to have!

    I will give you some tips. Treat this job like a real job for which you will be held accountable. Do not look at it as a time to sit around and visit.

    Be where the staff can find you. Don't be wandering off to the cafeteria and break room all the time.

    If you find a few of the staff that seem friendly and welcoming, tell them why you are there and ask them to please utilize you to the fullest. Be proactive, don't sit and wait to be asked to do something. Look interested! ASk if you can answer call lights. It will take a little while before you get the drift of what you can and can't do, but once the staff knows you are available and want to work and learn, you will be busy.

    Our volunteers can take stable patients to the discharge area. They can bring stable patients to the room from triage. If allowed by your department, you can ask the patient to get into a gown if appropriate to the complaint and get them a blanket and pillow.

    Try your best to take care of the patient requests if you can without just passing the request along to the nurse. Of course you will need to know if the patient is allowed to have juice or water before giving it to them. Generally everyone is NPO until evaluated.

    You can fill and give ice packs to orthopedic injury patients.

    Being the "gofer" may seem like a trivial thing, but it is invaluable to a busy nurse to have someone be a runner. Many times our tube system is down and labs must be walked to the lab, meds hand carried from pharmacy, etc.

    Depending on the department, the staff is going to be busy, so they may not have time to chat with you but it doesn't mean they are being mean or not welcoming. There is one volunteer who will pick out a nurse to hover over and want to talk all day. When I am sitting at the computer, I am busy charting and don't have time to chat just because I am finally sitting down. So be available but don't be in the way.

    You can really be a valuable asset to the department. Just look at this as the serious business it is.

    Best of luck to you, and thanks in advance for all your help
  5. 0
    I love 'em. They really help out a lot.
  6. 0
    I was a volunteer in the ED for about a year and a half, and we were praised up and down by the nurses and techs. We helped the techs out with cleaning rooms, stocking supplies and doing everything short of actual patient care (although we occasionally assisted with moving or transporting a patient if it was a big job) plus if the rainbows ran low we refilled those. I liked it even though I had to move to a floor due to school scheduling conflicts.
  7. 2
    Quote from Dixielee
    We have some volunteers who absolutely get in the way, and some that I am so glad to have!

    I will give you some tips. Treat this job like a real job for which you will be held accountable. Do not look at it as a time to sit around and visit.

    Be where the staff can find you. Don't be wandering off to the cafeteria and break room all the time.

    If you find a few of the staff that seem friendly and welcoming, tell them why you are there and ask them to please utilize you to the fullest. Be proactive, don't sit and wait to be asked to do something. Look interested! ASk if you can answer call lights. It will take a little while before you get the drift of what you can and can't do, but once the staff knows you are available and want to work and learn, you will be busy.

    Our volunteers can take stable patients to the discharge area. They can bring stable patients to the room from triage. If allowed by your department, you can ask the patient to get into a gown if appropriate to the complaint and get them a blanket and pillow.

    Try your best to take care of the patient requests if you can without just passing the request along to the nurse. Of course you will need to know if the patient is allowed to have juice or water before giving it to them. Generally everyone is NPO until evaluated.

    You can fill and give ice packs to orthopedic injury patients.

    Being the "gofer" may seem like a trivial thing, but it is invaluable to a busy nurse to have someone be a runner. Many times our tube system is down and labs must be walked to the lab, meds hand carried from pharmacy, etc.

    Depending on the department, the staff is going to be busy, so they may not have time to chat with you but it doesn't mean they are being mean or not welcoming. There is one volunteer who will pick out a nurse to hover over and want to talk all day. When I am sitting at the computer, I am busy charting and don't have time to chat just because I am finally sitting down. So be available but don't be in the way.

    You can really be a valuable asset to the department. Just look at this as the serious business it is.

    Best of luck to you, and thanks in advance for all your help
    Thank you so much. This is actually really helpful. I find it hard to know where I stand and what I am or am not allowed to do. It's not as clear-cut as I expected it to be. I asked the volunteer I shadowed whether the staff readily asked for help and she said that they mostly don't. I guess they are uncomfortable with directing and assigning work to volunteers. This is the part that I find awkward. I'm just worried about what I should do once I've done all the immediate tasks I can do and have offered help that has not been accepted. What I fear most is getting stuck nervously twiddling my thumbs in the middle of the ED. I am an introvert so that doesn't help.

    Also, when I shadowed, we were checking on the supplies in an occupied room directly across from the nurses station that was beeping because the patient's IV was occluded. The nurses station was packed so there were plenty of heads around to notice. Are there monitors at the station which will notify the staff about this sort of stuff? Am I just being annoying if I go and tell the nurse about it?

    Appreciate your advice. I didn't know volunteering would be so socially difficult to navigate!
    Esme12 and etaoinshrdluRN like this.
  8. 3
    Yes, the monitors and the beeping are not being ignored. There is a central monitor at the desk. Many times alarms go off if the patient is moving around or other non life threatening events. Someone (hopefully) will glance at the monitor during an alarm and note a life threatening arrhythmia. So mentioning it is annoying and eventually someone will get tired of hearing it and check the patient and silence the alarm (some can be silenced from the desk).

    IV alarms are a little different. Sometimes you can't hear those if you are really busy and the area is loud (it usually is). Let it alarm for a few minutes and if no one notices you can point it out to someone who may be at the desk or a charge nurse. Most ED's have a grease board that tells what nurses/techs are assigned to what room, so you will know who the nurse is. IV alarms are generally not critical, but do need to be addressed.

    Stocking, emptying dirty linen carts, general clean up of area is always appreciated. If there is a break room with coffee and you see some haggard staff finally sitting down to chart, you can always ask if you can bring them some coffee. You will get kudos for that

    Asking someone (nurse, tech, clerk, doctor) if you can do anything for them is always appreciated. Sometimes there really is nothing you can do to help at that moment, but if you continue to make yourself available, you will be needed! Sometimes it is just nice to have someone update the family on progress. You can't give medical information of course, but you can tell them that they are still waiting on the consulting doc to call back, or we are waiting on a bed for admission, etc. (as directed by staff). You can help families find the cafeteria, direct visitors to the correct areas, make phone calls for patients who may be alone, etc. So make sure it is OK with your staff, but you can be a great help to patients who just want to let their family know where they are, arrange care for a pet, etc.

    You will find a niche! It never hurts to bring a batch of cookies to work either
    Esme12, etaoinshrdluRN, and Orange Tree like this.
  9. 3
    I LOVE being an ED volunteer, but what you do will really depend on the protocol at the hospital you volunteer at. Where I volunteer I answer phones, transport patients to x-ray, bring patients to their rooms, wheel discharged patients to their car, bring patients water or food (if the nurse allows it), clean beds, etc. The responsibilities your given will also depend on the nurses on duty. Some nurses love having volunteers, others pretty much treat us like we aren't there. Some nurses will be supportive, others won't. I had a nurse just this last week tell me that I was wasting my time by trying to get into nursing school because no one's hiring and he doesn't see any new positions opening up for 10 years. Other nurses are very supportive and willing to give advice about nursing and nursing school.
    There are going to be slow days and busy days. On slow days when there isn't much to do, I usually take a walk around the ED every five minutes to see if anyone needs anything or if rooms need to be cleaned. I also like being proactive and cleaning rooms before I'm asked to do so (I'm able to see when a patient is discharged). If its a busy day, I try to stay out of the way and tend to answer phones to help alleviate some of the work load of the secretaries.
    Basically, some nurses will see you as part of the team others will not. I try not to be too chatty with nurses unless they want to be chatty with me; I realize they have a huge work load. There are a couple of nurses though that love to chat and really do a good job about answering questions I have.
    The advice given to treat volunteering like any other job is excellent. Although I'm not paid to volunteer I realize that I made a commitment and that I am depended on (I've had nurses and secretaries tell me that they can feel the difference when volunteers aren't around). When I'm sick or can't make it into work for one reason or another I always am courteous enough to call in and let the charge nurse I won' be making it. I used to work with two other volunteers; one was flaky and only showed up every couple of weeks, the other brought school work and did nothing but study. Not to toot my own horn, but the nurses preferred working with me and came to me first. One nurse went as far as to tell me that I'm one of the best volunteers she's seen in a while. Remember, these are people you might be working with one day and you don't want to burn any bridges. I also see it as an opportunity to network and have my face known around the hospital. With the way the job market is today, anything helps...Have fun and enjoy it, the ED is unique when it comes to volunteering because there is much more patient interaction and you see a whole host of illnesses and injuries. Its a great experience!
    Esme12, Orange Tree, and Dixielee like this.
  10. 0
    Make yourself useful by learnign everyone's names, how to make a hospital bed/stretcher, the names of different equipment and where it's stored. It's hard to find something for a volunteer to do if they don't know what I'm referring to, or where to look when I say, "grab me an extra blue top."

    Search the hospital and seek out any extra IV pumps or pillows. We always need more. Round on rooms and offer tea/coffee/water for visitors. Grab someone suring a quiet moment and go through the rooms, find out what each item is called and what it does. To triage an ambulance we need a general list of equipment and paperwork, so gather it all at the doorway. The more you do and jump in the more people will teach, especially if they know you are going to be hanging around more than a couple months.
  11. 1
    Thanks everyone for your advice. I'm feeling a little more inspired now!
    etaoinshrdluRN likes this.
  12. 1
    I like Dixielee's response. I'm not an ED nurse but I volunteered in an ED before nursing school, and know the "awkward" feeling you are experiencing. But know that the majority of the people are too busy to really even notice what you're doing, unless you're blatantly getting in the way...or being very helpful. Even little things like getting a pt a cup of ice water (if allowed) can be sooo helpful. We used to just greet pts, pass out lunch trays and run micro specimens to the lab, but every little thing that the nurse or CNA doesn't have to do is a huge help when they are running their butts off trying to get the "important" things done. Enjoy it and soak in the experience!
    Dixielee likes this.


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