Per hospital policy, the staff is not allowed to call a taxi for patients. Patients must either pay out-of-pocket, or use their insurance. After explaining this for the third time to the gentleman in the Emergency Department waiting room of Banner University Medical Center, his sweet gaze turned into a twisting scowl and he proceeded to inform me that he did, indeed, vote for Donald Trump. He then pumped his fist and repeatedly yelled out “White Power! White Power!” in the crowded waiting area. And I, a brown girl, swallowed my pride and tolerated the offense in silence as the front desk staff called security.
During my summer 2017 Patient Experience Internship with BUMC, my assigned unit was ED. I was registered for three summer sessions, each of which included a minimum of 40 hours spent in the hospital, four Rounding Logs, four Journal Entries, and a Final Project. Aside from my environmental duties, which included stocking supplies and checking equipment, I had to round on the ED patients. As a communication liaison, I was the middle-man between patient and hospital staff, and my patient contact would serve to enhance a patient’s experience at the hospital. I would bridge the gap between patients, families, and staff. My patient-centered duties involved understanding and clarifying patient issues, and directing the appropriate resources to the patients. After fulfilling these objectives, I discovered that many patients just wanted someone with whom to converse. Several patients lacked the personal support system of family and friends, and had to wait in their rooms alone for hours before hearing back from hospital staff. I discovered that by simply conversing with the patients, I would distract them from their pain or anxiety and enhance their hospital experience. Before leaving the ED, they would express their gratitude by thanking me, even though I had written no prescriptions and administered no clinical care. I like to think that the PX interns gave the unit a human touch by forming brief bonds with the patients.
By the end of the summer, I had enthusiastically spent 200 hours helping in the Emergency Department. The curious part about working in the ED was that we were the first responders who later guided the patients to specialized departments in the hospital, including neuro, cardio, gastrointestinal. Thus, we would see people from all walks of life. From the unfortunate homeless man coming in with a serious skin infection who would apologize every few seconds for “wasting our time,” to the woman who called an ambulance for her hangnail. Undeniably, I saw my fair share of strange cases. This internship gave me an inside glimpse of the patient’s lives.
I would recommend a hospital internship/volunteering opportunity to all pre-med students, not because of the medical school requirements, but because of the patient-care understanding. As we progress to post-graduate educations, we will learn the clinical aspects of healthcare, and provide the best remedy for our patients. But I think what persuades a patient to initially seek care is their previous experience associated with hospitals. As a PX intern, I worked intimately behind the scenes and got an impressionable glimpse of the emotions involved in hospital stays, from the moment a patient walks in to be admitted, to when they are discharged. I know that my experience with the Patient Experience Internship will provide me with the empathy and compassion that I would need to be an effective healthcare professional. So next time I witness a violent patient outburst, although I may not appreciate it, I understand and sympathize with where it is coming from, and I adjust my response accordingly.