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Students prescribe volunteering to support their medical careers

Hannah and Emily

Two students have given their ambitions to become doctors a shot in the arm by volunteering in Morriston Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED).

Hannah Medley and Emily Pascoe (pictured above), both aged 21, have spent the past 18 months doing volunteer shifts in the busy ED while completing Applied Medical Sciences undergraduate degrees in Swansea University.

The pair have now both been offered the chance to return to Swansea University to study for a graduate entry, four-year medical degree, which will see them qualify as doctors.

Hannah, who is originally from Devon, said: “I have had the opportunity to try a few different volunteering roles in Morriston Hospital over the last 18 months. I started in the Acute Medical Unit (AMU), and then moved into the Emergency Department where I undertook a similar role, really seeing the realities of working in a fast-paced ED.

“ED brings new challenges every shift. A large part of the role is providing patients with food and drink. We help the Red Cross with offering food to all the patients in the department.

“But it’s also chatting to patients, hearing loads of people’s life stories, which is really interesting.

“People often feel lonely in ED, or understandably don’t want to be there, so our role often involves reassuring them, calming them down and helping people find their relatives. I’ve had to help someone phone their wife.

“There’s loads of different roles.

“We go into the waiting area with a tea trolley sometimes, but most of the shift is within the department itself.

“My favourite part of the role is interacting with the patients and understanding more about their personal situations. Getting to know the patients often helps to improve the support we can offer them.”

The role has afforded the pair a different perspective on the department.

Hannah said: “Everyone in ED has been great. Understandably there are times when the staff are overworked and stressed, but everyone still remains very friendly and approachable.

“The most important insight I have gained from volunteering is appreciating how all of the different roles in ED play such an important role in patient care.

“I have the utmost respect for every member of the health care team. Everyone is important and a doctor would not be able to effectively work without everybody else in that department.”

Hannah and Emily 2

Emily, who hails from Hampshire, has found the role equally inspiring.

She said: “I thought it would be a good way to get an insight into what it was like working in a busy hospital.

“We’ve met a few other student volunteers who are also on our course that I hadn’t met before.

“We’ve spoken to a number of students in the years below us who want to go on to do medicine afterwards, and recommended volunteering in Morriston. It is such a good opportunity to see how the environment works and how staff work together in teams for patient care.

“The part that I take the most from is speaking to the patients and trying to understand, from their point of view, how they are feeling in the situation and what you can try to do to make it an easier experience.

“Something as small as going over to someone, giving them a cup of tea and having a chat can help provide comfort during difficult times. Things like that that the staff just don’t have the time for.”

And volunteering in one of the busiest emergency departments in Wales hasn’t put the pair off training to be a doctor.

Emily said: “Seeing the staff work so hard hasn’t put me off at all. Actually, it’s been quite the opposite – it has inspired me.

“There’s so many different roles in ED and it is interesting to see how they all work together. Doctors, nurses, and other allied health care professionals communicate with one other and utilise their different skills to provide effective patient care.

“All I’ve ever seen is people working really hard. The doctors, nurses and health care professionals clearly care for all their patients; they are working as hard as they can against the pressures in ED.

Hannah said: “We have certainly seen the pressures the ED faces, with ambulances queuing up outside and patients waiting for hours to be seen.

“The staff are absolutely working so hard behind the scenes, going that extra mile, to see all the patients as quickly as they can.

“ED is an exciting environment to be in. It’s stressful but all the staff are so inspiring.”

Both Hannah and Emily, who each did a three hour shift each Friday, believed volunteering strengthened their applications to study medicine.

Hannah said: “It was really useful being able to speak about our experiences during our interviews for medical school.

“For one of the universities I applied to you had to have 70 hours of volunteer experience - the volunteer service had to provide a reference for us.

“So it’s definitely something good to have. I think for people our age, especially with the pandemic, a lot of people haven’t had much opportunity to come into hospitals.

“I know that in England, it’s much harder to get into hospitals than it is here. It’s absolutely amazing to volunteer here in Morriston.

“Some think going into a GP surgery once for a couple of hours is ok, but being able to do it every week, you get so much experience from that, it’s great.

“I love Morriston, and it has really made me want to stay in Swansea and carry on my studies.”

The pair recommend all students contemplating a career in medicine give hospital volunteering a go.

Emily said: “My advice to those thinking of a career in medicine is to get loads of experience. The more you get, the better your insight will be into a potential career in medicine.

“I know this is definitely what I want to do. This is the environment I want to go into.’

“Even if after volunteering you realise medicine may not be the career for you, there are many other careers in healthcare you could explore. It is an enjoyable experience that I would recommend to anyone.’”

Hannah said: “I feel so much more prepared being 21 now with a degree under my belt and so much experience from volunteering here in Morriston.”

Hannah and Emily and Karen Karen Thomas, Interim Matron in ED, said the work of volunteers was invaluable.

She said: “Our lovely volunteers who support our service users in the Emergency Department have become an integral part of our ED team.

“I believe that I speak for all of our staff when I say that we couldn’t manage without them and I am quite sure that our patients and relatives would agree with this too. Thank you.”

Julia Griffiths, SBUHB Volunteer Coordinator, said: “We are thrilled to see Hannah and Emily moving on to study medicine at Swansea University.

“Volunteering offers young people a realistic insight into what working in a Hospital is like. It also provides an opportunity to instil the Health Board’s values of caring for each other, working together and always improving, at an early stage.

“The girls have been a great asset to the Emergency Department and we look forward to seeing them back as medics.”

To find out more about volunteer opportunities with Swansea Bay University Health Board please visit our website here.

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